Politicians can learn from fate of football managers – change leader with great care
Published 02/05/2014 | 02:30
Alan Pardew has been the manager of Newcastle football club since December 2010. That's not a very long time but incredibly it makes him the second longest serving manager in the English Premier League after Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.
This should make it clear that football managers are a bit like Italian governments; blink and they're gone.
Alan Pardew's job is currently in serious danger. Newcastle have had a disastrous run of form since Christmas following a brilliant run of form up to then. They've been beaten six times on the trot.
Up to Christmas he was a hero and now he's a zero again.
Eamon Gilmore ought to be able to appreciate and empathise with the changing fortunes and insecurities of the life of your average football manager.
One moment you're the man who led your 'team' to its best ever result (General Election 2011) and the next, your job is in danger and you're being blamed for a terrible slump in form.
Micheal Martin is in a different position. He took over Fianna Fail only after it had fallen from the top of the table to close to the bottom, but he's hasn't been able to revive his party's fortunes in any meaningful way.
Bertie Ahern was a sort of political version of Alex Ferguson. He led his party to one effortless triumph after another. Okay, I exaggerate, because Ferguson was a better leader than Bertie turned out to be, although Bertie was by no means as bad as his worst critics make out.
Nonetheless, for many Fianna Fail supporters Bertie could do no wrong and the question was, who would he choose to succeed him?
There was never much doubt as to the answer, only the timing was in doubt. Brian Cowen was the chosen one but Cowen turned out to be as hapless as poor David Moyes.
It isn't just that the job was too big for Cowen.
Like Moyes, he inherited a situation that looked much healthier from the outside than it turned out to be in reality.
Cowen inherited an economy that had already been holed below the water line and Moyes inherited a rapidly ageing team that performed above itself under Ferguson.
The difference between Cowen and Moyes, however, is that at least Moyes can't be blamed for what he took over whereas Cowen had contributed his bit as Finance Minister to the undermining of our economy.
Micheal Martin is the man appointed to revive the fortunes of Fianna Fail and bring it back if not to the very top of the table at least to the political equivalent of a place in the Champions League. That doesn't look like happening yet and if Fianna Fail still look some way off the pace after the local and European elections then Martin's job will be in danger.
Gilmore's is already in danger. Gilmore in his defence ought to quote Arsene Wenger who likes to tell reporters "life is movement", by which he simply means things change, and then change again, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better.
Last August all the football commentators were praising the genius of Tottenham Hotspur chairman, Daniel Levy, after he got £85m for the sale of Gareth Bale and then spent the money on players supposedly capable of getting the team into the Champions League under Andres Villas-Boas.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were getting hammered for their inactivity in the transfer market.
Flash forward a few months and Arsenal were topping the Premiership and Villas-Boas had been sacked. Now Wenger was the genius.
Flash forward a few more weeks and Arsenal had been humiliated by Chelsea and Liverpool and the calls were growing for Wenger to be sacked, or at least not have his contract renewed.
Now Arsenal look set to qualify for the Champions League for the 17th season in a row and are favourites to win the FA Cup.
So life is indeed movement.
Gilmore led his party to glory in 2011. Maybe another leader could have done the same under the same circumstances. Who knows? But Gilmore did actually do it.
And maybe Labour would have been better off not going into government and should have become the main opposition party instead. But they are where they are.
Now they look set to do disastrously in the mid-term elections.
Unless the arrest of Gerry Adams turns out to be a game-changer (once again showing that "life is movement"), Gilmore is about to get a taste of how Wenger felt after being beaten 6-0 by Chelsea.
But should he be sacked? Only if Labour Party members are reasonably certain that they have someone better to replace him with.
A lot of the time in football a new manager revives the fortunes of his team only temporarily. There is an initial feel-good factor that boosts results and then the fundamental weaknesses of the team reveal themselves again.
When Tim Sherwood took over from Villas-Boas he got a good run of results to begin with but now they are probably about where Villas-Boas would have had them had he been allowed to stay on.
So the question is whether Labour and Fianna Fail have someone waiting in the wings who can really change the fortunes of their parties or is it that certain fundamentals are dragging them down regardless of who is in charge?
Therefore Labour and Fianna Fail need to learn the lessons of the Premier League, which is to change your manager only with great care.
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