THE BIG INTERVIEW: Ex-Morecambe boss Jim Bentley on his hopes for the future at AFC Fylde
It used to be said – not altogether seriously – in the Morecambe press box that there were three certainties in life – death, taxes and Jim Bentley being the Shrimps’ boss.
Only two of those are nailed on now after Bentley left the Globe Arena at the start of this week to become the new AFC Fylde manager, followed by assistant boss Ken McKenna and goalkeeping coach Lee Jones.
Any visitor to the Globe Arena on Monday could have been forgiven for wondering if there had been a death in the family given the atmosphere around the club that morning.
Some staff were in tears, some walked around with stunned expressions, while others posed the question, ‘What now’?
That may seem a touch melodramatic but, for everyone at the club, Bentley had been the one constant for the best part of two decades.
Having joined the club as a player in 2002, he skippered them to Football League promotion five years later before replacing Sammy McIlroy as manager in 2011. Eight-and-a-half years later – as well as 763 games as player and manager – an era has well and truly ended in that particular corner of North West England.
“We’ve always tried to create a family environment,” Bentley said.
“We’ve all looked out for each other and I hope I have the respect of the players and staff because that’s definitely the case from my perspective.
“We’ve all enjoyed the ride but all good things come to an end and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my career with a club that has massive ambition, not just to get into the EFL but into League One.”
Bentley’s reign saw the Shrimps stay in the EFL despite facing teams with bigger names and budgets as well as ownership problems, late payment of wages and a transfer embargo.
Bentley was effectively cast in the role of a footballing Sisyphus, except rather than pushing a boulder up a mountain, he faced the annual task of rebuilding a squad.
Tom Barkhuizen, Jamie Devitt, Aaron Collins and Shaun Miller are just some of the players who were cast-offs from other clubs who were picked up by the Shrimps, developed, and then picked off by other teams.
That isn’t to say, however, that Bentley was a unanimously popular figure among the club’s supporters.
Sixteen games into the season and the Shrimps are at the foot of League Two with 10 defeats and only two wins from their 16 league matches.
Style of football, tactics, a preference for certain players over others and a theory he should have left after the final-day ‘great escape’ at Coventry City in 2018, were all sticks with which he was beaten in recent years, culminating in social media polls asking whether he should stay or go.
There was also a difficult relationship with the club’s owners, resulting in Bentley’s departure thanks in part to a difference of opinion on whether he would be offered a new deal after his existing one expired at the end of this season.
“I’d made the board aware I was happy to stay and build something,” he said.
“The board wanted to but the owners weren’t coming up with the right answers. The budget stayed the same, which was disappointing. It took its toll on me – this close season more than other – because it was like a case of, ‘Well done, same budget again’ when it’s becoming more difficult to stay up.
“I believe I built a decent squad, albeit one that’s under-performed, and I back them to get out of the position they’re in.
“Football is a game of opinions, though, and not everyone is going to agree with you, whether you’re Jurgen Klopp at the top of the Premier League or me in my position with Morecambe.
“There are a couple of people who got a bit personal but all I tried to do was my best for the club.
“If that’s not good enough, I know I can look in the mirror and know I’ve given it my absolute best.”
Bentley’s AFC Fylde reign began on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw at Maidenhead United, keeping them two places above the National League relegation zone.
On the face of it, swapping the EFL for non-league might be a strange decision.
However, the Coasters possess a modern stadium, fine training and off-field facilities, as well as an ambitious owner in David Haythornthwaite.
They were within 90 minutes of a League Two place last season before losing the play-off final to Salford City, but still won the FA Trophy.
Bentley’s contract runs until the end of the 2021/22 season, the year Haythornthwaite had earmarked for EFL status after taking over the former Kirkham and Wesham club in 2007.
Bentley said: “It’s a massive decision but I’ve got to do it.
“I’m excited by the project – it ticks a lot of boxes and it’ll hopefully work out for all parties.
“In an ideal world, AFC Fylde will be playing Morecambe on Boxing Day next year in League Two.
“I wish Morecambe all the best, particularly the players and all the staff behind the scenes.”