Most managers get the sack because they deserve it
W ith nine dismissals in 11 days, managers are dropping like flies. My old clubs Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Ham are under particular scrutiny and everyone is searching for an explanation. In part we can blame society's obsession with instant gratification but that is not the whole story. While the rest of us are left scratching our heads, you can bet that players themselves are not surprised.
Personally, I can't think of many managers I've played under who were sacked and didn't deserve it. I've had several where the feeling in the dressing room was: "How on earth are you still here?" As a group of players, once you've lost confidence in the manager, you want him to leave. In my experience there are two major factors that determine how long a manager lasts. One, undeniably, is results. But another is likability.
Either or both of these can help a manager through rough times -- they act as insurance policies to fall back on and buy more time when things start going wrong.
Managers, like young players, tend to be measured by early success. Look at Arsene Wenger -- hugely successful when he first took over at Arsenal, but hasn't won a trophy in five years. Of course he's up there in the league every year, but to some extent he is still living off his early achievements. The rule to surviving seems to be: get a trophy in, fast.
Perhaps that is why Chris Hughton's dismissal caused the biggest outcry of all -- he followed the template by winning the Championship, and still he was sacked.
Good results and likability do not necessarily go together, though. A prime example is Gerard Houllier. I have a lot of time for him because he taught me a valuable lesson about player respect at Liverpool. But he was not a popular manager, despite his trophies. I remember being at Aston Villa and some of my old Liverpool team-mates were complaining about him. I said: "But you're third in the league, what's there to moan about?" They just didn't like the way he did things.
Did it matter? No, because in the early days he brought success. You can forgive a manager anything if he helps you to win. Once the winning stops there comes a period of grace -- living off the memories of having won -- but if the players don't like you the mood quickly turns sour.
Losing the confidence of the dressing room is not as rare as it seems. We only tend to hear about it when there are heavy defeats, but I've played for managers whom the team has disliked and we've been floating along mid-table. Mediocrity is itself a reason to dislike a manager. Players are ambitious and want to win, not settle for safety.
Once the talk starts that a manager is going to get the sack, it's almost a done deal. The dressing room is already thinking about who will be next in charge. The more the manager protests on TV that he has the confidence of his players, the more the players are pulling their hair out behind the scenes.
As the pressure builds, the unrest gains momentum and is difficult for a manager to contain. It is at this point that they often start to make crazy decisions. One manager I had brought in a rule that English was the only language allowed in the dressing room. That alienated the foreign players who then refused to speak English and suddenly there was a rift. Another manager who rounded us all up after a heavy thrashing told us: "When you go home your kids are going to look at you and say: 'Daddy was a mummy today.'" It was the strangest thing we'd ever heard, and it only reinforced our suspicion that he had completely lost it.
Other common mistakes by managers are not being honest, a surefire way of losing your players' trust, or playing teacher and punishing individuals by forcing them to train
with the youth players. Never a good idea. It's not that a boss has to please his players all the time, but he has to be honest and show basic respect.
As England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson dropped me three times yet I still have a very high opinion of him. He took the time to explain his decisions, and gave me advance notice. Everyone hates a manager who drops players without any warning or explanation.
The only manager I've ever played for who turned the dressing room around was Avram Grant. When he first came to Portsmouth we kept losing. The club seemed to be going down the pan, we hadn't been paid, and morale was low.
But a good run in the FA Cup kept us buoyant. It was something to focus on, a light at the end of a tunnel -- although, sadly, it turned out to be a train. But that FA Cup final glossed over our other problems and we were happy. Grant kept us together and guided us towards this light. At the time it was awesome and we believed in him.
The divide between players and managers is not easy to bridge. But all these sackings haven't put me off. As crazy as it sounds after what happened last week, I still want to be a manager.
Sunday Indo Sport