David Jeffrey has stunned Linfield fans by announcing his intention to stand down at the end of the current season.
The 51-year-old has been in charge at Windsor Park for 17 years, winning 30 trophies to date.
Although not universally popular, there had been no prior warning that Jeffrey was considering his position, with the season building to a thrilling climax.
Following Saturday’s 6-0 win over Ballinamallard, the nine times Manager of the Year issued a statement saying the matchday timing of his announcement was unfortunate, but that it “couldn’t have been done any other way”.
He said: “It was a massive decision for me to take after 17 years in charge here as manager...I consulted with my family and members of the board and I felt that it was the right time for everyone concerned.”
Jeffrey took over from Trevor Anderson in 1997 and is only one trophy away from equalling Roy Coyle’s record of 31 trophies for the club.
He added: “Today I announced that I would be stepping down as Linfield manager but I am not stepping down from football. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I am only 51, love working with players and love the game. I will think about the future once the end of the season comes.”
Drew McCoubrey, chairman of the Linfield Supporters Advisory Forum but speaking in a personal capacity, said he was shocked the announcement came while the club was well-positioned to win the league.
“Whether he was encouraged I simply don’t know that but it all seems very, very strange. I have nothing but the utmost respect for David Jeffrey and he has produced fantastic teams over the years. The pressure on him must have been unbearable.”
“Linfield supporters are probably the most critical in the land, so the fact that David Jeffrey has lasted 17 years, even with all of his success, is a testament to the guy’s character and backbone.”
Linfield vice-chairman Billy Kennedy, who has served 41 years on the club’s board, said he rated Jeffrey as the best of the seven managers during that time.
“As a player for a decade in the 1980s and manager for 17 years, David has been an illustrious stalwart for the club and in club management we will never see the like of him again,” he said.
“His motivation and ability to get the best out of players has been an inspiration to us all at Windsor Park.
“His commitment to the club we all love and respect is total and we thank him most sincerely for his outstanding contribution to Linfield spanning four decades.”
Proud record of successful boss
Since David Jeffrey succeeded Trevor Anderson as Linfield manager in 1997 he was won nine league championships and seven Irish Cups.
He has also scooped 32 Manager of the Month awards and nine Manager of the Year titles.
If he manages to guide his team to success in the Co Antrim Shield final on March 4 he will have equalled Roy Coyle’s record of 31 trophies.