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Saturday 10 December 2016

Demise of the manager has been greatly exaggerated

Talk of Premier League bosses dancing to owners' tunes are off the mark, writes Henry Winter

Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00

One of the more amusing observations made by a worldly Chelsea fan after the club paid £13.3m compensation for Andre Villas-Boas was that if Portugal was run as financially robustly as Porto, "the country wouldn't need bailing out".

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Porto's sensible strategy reflects that good managers are now like their star players, commanding substantial transfer fees. Birmingham City even sought £5.4m compensation for Alex McLeish, and he had been relegated.

A perception strangely persists that managers are losing their power, that chairmen, chief executives, directors of football and supporters impinge increasingly on them. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp flew to Denmark to watch Barcelona's Bojan against England under 21s and was besieged throughout the second half by Spurs fans clamouring for his autograph. They all left with the signature they wanted. Redknapp didn't. Even a simple scouting trip has myriad demands.

It is hard to imagine Redknapp surfing online forums, discovering what is being written about him, but some managers do. Before joining Fulham last week, Martin Jol did due diligence on the club, including assessing fans' reaction to the possibility of his arrival and their hopes for the season.

"I had a good look at the forums,'' reflected Jol, "and the fans expect us to do well but they don't expect us to be in the Champions League.'' Fulham fans are known to be amongst the more level-headed terrace inhabitants but Jol clearly felt it wise to check.

A confident Dutchman, Jol still offered up the opinion that the manager's task was being inhibited by other escalating influences, notably the chairman, chief executive, and, as he discovered painfully at Spurs, the director of football.

Jol is fortunate that at Fulham he now works for one of the most respected chief executives around, Alistair Mackintosh, while he also went out of his way to praise Mohamed Al Fayed as an owner "who does not interfere".

But, Jol argued, the all-powerful "boss", lord of all he surveys, is no more. "What is a boss?" Jol mused. "Do you think there is one manager in England who makes the decisions about financial matters with players? There is not." "Fergie?" somebody suggested. "You're right," he acknowledged.

Managers have the power. Ferguson wanted Phil Jones, Ashley Young and (pending) David de Gea and his very able chief executive, David Gill, duly obliged. There are others. Kenny Dalglish has gone into Liverpool, working with Jol's old bête noir Damien Comolli, and stamped his mark on the transfer policy. Stewart Downing, not Sylvain Marveaux, is now the target for the left-sided slot.

Managers still dictate transfer-market movements. Villas-Boas is already being linked with two of his Porto stars, Falcao and Joao Moutinho. At Chelsea, Roman Abramovich will always lob an expensive gift into the dressing room, whether Andrei Shevchenko or Fernando Torres, and the manager has to deal with it. But Villas-Boas need start worrying only if Avram Grant walks into Cobham. Abramovich's main interference comes primarily with the ridiculous frequency with which he dismisses accomplished managers.

There will always be takers for the job. Such is the ambition of some managers that they move on suddenly, some resigning by fax (Villas-Boas) or by email (McLeish) to reach pastures new.

Mark Hughes, a multi-millionaire, even quit Fulham without a job to go to, a decision that currently looks bizarre although may be clarified at the end of June when he is free to negotiate with other clubs. But who? Hughes appeared destined for Villa but they were unimpressed by the way he left Fulham (mutual respect defines the working relationship between Mackintosh and his Villa counterpart, Paul Faulkner).

As Hughes looked on, Villa chased McLeish, whose reputation was strong enough to survive the embarrassment of relegation. For all the understandable tribal concerns of some Villa fans, good managers like McLeish are wanted men. Compensation shows that. Birmingham's acting chairman, Peter Pannu, claimed that McLeish's contract entitled them to £5.4m if he left before June 30 (and £3m after).

"If he came to me and said 'Pete you know we had a great relationship, but Villa want me', I would say I would grant you permission if you give me £5.4m by the end of this month or Villa does. I don't care who pays me,'' argued Pannu. "I would grant that if he pays me the money. If he says 'Peter I want to go for free' of course I wouldn't grant it -- you have taken me down with the relegation, now take me back up".

Pannu's frustration is understandable. McLeish walked while Birmingham were busily spending money on four players chosen by the manager. He will be even angrier if McLeish returns for Ben Foster, an England 'keeper too good for the Championship.

McLeish was briefly linked with the Fulham vacancy, partly because he has recently bought a property nearby, although this is actually for him and his wife to have a base when visiting London for shows or shopping. The man who has moved into the Cottage, Jol, has spoken of the pressures of his profession but the rewards are obvious. Jol himself owns a decent art collection.

Even for the popular Jol, who Spurs fans always claimed looked like Tony Soprano, nobody is opening the violin cases. Sympathy is inevitably limited for those paid so handsomely. True figures of managers' salaries can be hard to establish fully so it was illuminating when a piqued Birmingham released details about McLeish.

"His contract is halved, it goes down by 50 per cent to about £800,000 in the Championship,'' said Pannu. You do not require a calculator to realise McLeish was on £1.6m a year in the Premier League. Pannu believes McLeish "is likely to be on £2m a year at Villa". Probably more. Whether in wages or compensation, good managers are worth it.

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