JOHN MCMAHON believes that by returning to Tranmere this summer, he is back in harness with a club setting an example being followed by an increasing number of rivals in the lower divisions.
McMahon, a coach at Prenton Park between 1998 and 2006, signed in again last month after spells with Shrewsbury Town and Liverpool Reserves.
In the years he was away, Rovers established a reputation as one of the most prudently run of the Football League’s small clubs, holding onto League One status while cutting back on the budget for players so they avoided the heavy operating losses of the past.
McMahon may have just left an Anfield regime that can afford “the best of everything” but he understands why many clubs of Rovers’ size are heeding the lesson and trying to live within their means.
“The money element in the game at League One level has got tighter in the five years since I was here last,” McMahon said.
“I think trying to be competitive on a tight budget has got to be the way forward for a lot of clubs now. Tranmere were one of the first to recognise the way things are going on the money side and adjusted accordingly. They looked at their own house and got things financially stable.
“It is common practice here to run a really tight ship. Now some other clubs are moving the same way. They were finding it a struggle when they went way over budget so now they are starting to chop back drastically to reduce the overheads.
“Tranmere started doing it two or three years ago and in that respect, they have the advantage in knowing how to do it. I think there are a few clubs coming back to Tranmere’s level in terms of how much they are prepared to spend.”
McMahon spent just under two years as reserve team manager at Anfield after dedicating most of his coaching career to clubs in the lower divisions.
“The biggest difference at top clubs like Liverpool is the facilities, they are fantastic,” McMahon said.
“There is no limit on the budget for equipment and technology. Liverpool get the best of everything and there’s more staff to look after things. The backup is always there if you need it. I learned a lot, working with good-quality people with a lot of experience.”
McMahon, who had been appointed by Rafa Benitez in January 2009, departed Anfield in March of this year as new manager Kenny Dalglish began to make changes in the backroom staff.
Tranmere manager Les Parry wasted no time in seeking McMahon after coach David Lowe was headhunted by Blackburn at the end of last season.
It brought McMahon’s coaching career full circle to where it started and he admitted this week: “It feels like I have come home.”
McMahon’s CV includes eight years at Tranmere as a youth coach, reserve team coach, first-team coach and caretaker manager (on two occasions) and three seasons with League Two club Shrewsbury Town, where he was assistant manager to Gary Peters and then Paul Simpson.
McMahon and Parry are longtime friends. McMahon confesses that during the days when they both worked under John Aldridge as coach and physio at Prenton Park, neither would have predicted the medical man would become the boss.
Even so, McMahon reckons Parry always had the qualities that would make a good manager.
“Knowing Les the way I do, he is able to take to anything because he is so thorough and professional,” McMahon said. “His management skills are, for me, one of his strengths. Les becoming a manager was actually a natural progression.”
McMahon shares Parry’s optimism that Tranmere can mount a challenge in the top half of the League One table in the coming campaign, after fighting off the threat of relegation in the last two seasons.
He said: “In recent seasons there has been a big turnover in players here but this time that turnover is not so great. There’s a bit of stability. A lot of the lads already know each other quite well and they know the patterns of play. You are not going to have a situation where a dozen players are learning about the people and the place.
“I saw quite a lot of Tranmere last season because Liverpool reserves did not play on Saturday and I was able to come over. I think that’s helped.”
While McMahon will be working on first-team duties with Parry and assistant manager Kevin Summerfield, he will also be looking after the reserves and keeping an eye on the youth team.