Richard Sadlier: Stability and continuity not all they're cracked up to be
Cup finalists have shown that success is possible in a climate of uncertainty, writes Richard Sadlier
It's not uncommon in football to view stability and continuity as important components of success. Or, to put it another way, to think uncertainty around the future of the manager creates a climate in which failure is more likely. The line-up of today's FAI Cup final would suggest otherwise.
Sligo Rovers manager Ian Baraclough does not yet know whether he will be in charge of the club beyond today. His contract expires at the final whistle and despite his desire to resolve the issue the club has been unwilling to act. A decision was postponed until the close season despite the disruption it may have caused in the meantime.
There are no such doubts at Drogheda United. Manager Mick Cooke was told in early September he would not be offered a new deal. A club statement confirmed the news, a surprising move given their upcoming fixtures at the time. Not only did they have an FAI Cup quarter-final to play, but also the final of the EA Sports Cup. Disregarding the impact it may have on the players, the club chose to go public.
The managerial situation at both clubs has been a prominent feature in the build-up to the game. Can players be expected to give their all for a manager who doesn't know whether he is rated by the club? Or for one that knows for sure that he is not? The situation is already being lined up as an excuse for defeat in some quarters.
All of this brought to mind the comments made by FAI CEO John Delaney on Newstalk on the morning Giovanni Trapattoni left his job as Ireland manager. He talked about the decision to extend Trapattoni's contract by two years in November 2011 when it still had eight months to run. It looked from a distance to be the reward for qualification, but there was more to the decision than just that. Delaney said the move to resolve the issue so soon after the play-off win over Estonia was made partly to protect the FAI from criticism. "Had we gone to the Euros without renewing his contract then the poor performances at the Euros could be blamed on the association," he told Pat Kenny, before outlining what that criticism might be. "'You didn't give him a new contract' and as a result the players didn't believe he was going to be the new manager into the new campaign."
It's as if the players could not be expected to perform with the issue hanging over them. Speculating on whether they could have is pointless now, but I can't see how that would apply to the players taking part in today's final.
Most of them don't yet know where they will be playing next year and they won't have earnings from football to take them through the close season. The days of handing out long-term contracts in advance of the season ending are virtually gone at most clubs in the league. Long-term planning is simply not possible.
The disruption caused by handling their managers' situations in this way would be greater in leagues where things are done differently. Players have performed in far more precarious positions in recent years than having a manager their club will not commit to.
Going by Delaney's rationale, blame for defeat today could fall on the board members of either club. I'm sure many are waiting to point an accusing finger in that direction because of the distraction the issue may have caused within the dressing room. After all, their actions have brought about a scenario where the build-
up to the final featured Baraclough talking up his interest in the vacant Notts County job and Cooke suggesting he already has options for next season. Hardly the ideal preparation for the biggest game of some of these players' careers. But the game will not be won or lost in the boardroom and people shouldn't look to explain the result in those terms. Drogheda's players, for example, were told from day one never to use Cooke's departure as an excuse for failure and their progress to the final would suggest they listened. They've already shown it hasn't affected them so let's assume it won't today.
It will be Cooke's third cup final this season and last year Baraclough led Sligo to their first title in 35 years. The popular decision would be to renew both deals, but neither board seems affected by those concerns. As for stability and continuity, neither have been seen in Irish football for quite some time.