Tuesday 12 December 2017

Patience a virtue in Manchester

Off the ball

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba. Photo: PA

Ger Gilroy

Sometimes in sport it pays to play the long game. Or even the interim period game. The NFL is a case in point, but so too is the recent situation at both Manchester clubs.

This Monday past was the traditional whacking day for the NFL. Creatively titled Black Monday, it was the day on which those 20 odd teams who didn't make the play-offs either sack or quietly retain their head coaches. Usually there are about seven teams who cull their staff and seek a replacement .

The entire process of hiring coaches from other teams is so transparent it seems quaintly Victorian compared to the tapping up that goes on in football.

In the midst of all the sackings and manoeuvrings and polite requests to bitter rivals to interview their staff, one stat stood out. The 2017 San Francisco 49ers became the first team since the 1970s to fire head coaches who were one and done in consecutive years.

Every other team had at least given the vast majority of coaches a second season to bed down and learn from their mistakes.

It's a remarkable stat in professional sport, even one without relegation. The other notable thing was that the stable teams who trusted their coaches tended to be the ones routinely in the play-offs. It's almost as if common sense pays off.

It struck me that as whacking day got into full swing, Jose Mourinho was winning his sixth league game in a row and Pep Guardiola was prissily batting away mundane questions after a squeaky home win against Burnley.

Just two months ago Pep and Mourinho were being compared and contrasted as certifiable cases of an evolutionary genius versus a calcified, cast-in-amber relic of a long gone age. At the time it all looked right and proper, too.

In our accelerated culture maybe waiting a few months for Jose to drop Wayne Rooney, find a central defensive partnership and give Paul Pogba a defined role suited to his talents is the equivalent of an NFL season.

Mourinho hasn't suddenly become the best manager in Europe again and it's also too soon to jump to conclusions about Pep.

When the season ends we'll be able to write a coherent narrative. It's worth waiting for.

Irish Independent

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