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Saturday 19 October 2019

Comment - What background checks go into high profile managerial appointments? You may be surprised

Ronald Koeman and Craig Shakespeare
Ronald Koeman and Craig Shakespeare
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Another game of managerial merry-go-round is about to be played out in the Premier League and somewhat inevitably, familiar mistakes will be made all over again.

When any credible employer looks to make a high profile appointment to a role that will be pivotal to the health of their business for years to come, you would expect them to put in exhaustive background checks before making the decisive call.

Yet having worked with numerous high profile clubs and ghost written programme notes for dozens of Premier League managers and players over the last two decade, I have persistently been amazed by the tales I have been told about the lack of groundwork that goes into a hugely expensive recruitment and a manager and his coaching staff.

Hiring a management team is, without question, the most significant decision a board of directors can make and yet all too often, it is a process that sidesteps any conventional business practice.

While gaining references from former clubs for prospective managers may not be realistic for such high profile appointments that need to be shrouded in secrecy until they are confirmed, the preparatory checks you would expect to put in before a contract that could be worth in excess of £5million is handed is out flimsy at best.

In a curious world that rewards moderate success - and that means survival in the Premier League for most top flight managers - huge end of season bonus payments are guaranteed for and if you come up short in that ambition, a huge pay-out comes your way when you are sacked.

As an example, Roberto Di Matteo remained on the Chelsea pay roll collecting a vast wage for 17 months after he was dismissed by the Stamford Bridge club and you wonder whether Aston Villa officials asked for pointers to the Italian’s abilities from those who worked with him at Chelsea before they hired him for a 12-game stint that ended in the sack last season. Now that was an expensive mistake.

Bizarrely, failure does not seem to tarnish the reputation of some managers and with Leicester and Everton currently looking for new men to lead their faltering Premier League challenges, a familiar list of recently sacked managers are in the frame for positions that may well be filled by the highest profile rather than the most deserving candidate.

The football grapevine has several branches and while formal discussions between top club officials regarding managers they have hired and fired may not be practical, there would be numerous ways to chat to ex-players and even former colleagues of a candidate before an approach is made.

Manchester City’s 2011/12 Premier League title winning manager Roberto Mancini is generally in the mix when a top Premier League job is available, so you would expect perspective employers to seek out a few pointers from those who worked with the fiery Italian amid numerous reports that he was distant from his players during his time in Manchester. Will those calls ever be made?

Manuel Pellegrini is also reported to be a contender to take over at Leicester, so it would only be right that those charged with finding a replacement for Craig Shakespeare will complete due diligence on a manager who appeared to lose the backing of Manchester City players long before he left the club in the summer of 2015.

If Everton chiefs had quizzed Southampton players and officials on Ronald Koeman’s management acumen before they hired the Dutchman, they may have been surprised to find that those working with the celebrated former Barcelona star were not displeased to see the back of a coach whose training methods were viewed as second rate compared to his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino.

Nigel Adkins is another manager to have emerged from Southampton with a glowing reputation after he was replaced by Pochettino in January 2013 and once again, both Reading and Sheffield United would have been wise to tap into the knowledge of Saints players before appointing they hired him for what proved to be disappointment spells at the helm of their club. They may not have made that appointment if they had canvassed the views of a few Southampton players who had lost faith in Adkins long before he was fired by the south coast club.

Claude Puel - who was sacked by Southampton last summer - is currently the bookies favourite to take over at Leicester and calls be placed to Southampton officials and players to get views on his qualities before an appointment is made. Puel may hope that process does not take place.

All too often, football clubs look at the profile of a manager ahead of his suitability to do the job, which is why former Barcelona star Koeman is likely emerge as a strong contender to succeed Slaven Bilic when the axe finally falls on a manager who is on borrowed time at West Ham.

Koeman, Pellegrini, Mancini and Puel may all be back in the Premier League sooner rather than later, but don’t be surprised if the problems they encountered in their last jobs crop up once again in their next posts.

It seems that your track record counts for very little when if are a manager with a profile that is bigger than your abilities.

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