Sunday 19 August 2018

Emery reaction further proof that nobody knows what good manager looks like

Emery: Underwhelming reaction. Photo: Reuters
Emery: Underwhelming reaction. Photo: Reuters

Paul Hayward

New managers are being greeted by fans with all the warmth they would show to a Jehovah's Witness ringing the door bell during a Saturday morning fry-up. The memory strains to recall examples of rejoicing among supporters.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are two obvious cases where fans felt their clubs had hired an inspirational leader. Part of Klopp's appeal was that Liverpool jumped in ahead of Europe's other big names to employ a coach who was innovative and charismatic.

Guardiola was the No 1 catch in management and someone with a grand idea - which Manchester City wanted. But most appointments these days seem to induce only brow-furrowing and social media skirmishes between pros and antis.

Reason one is that owners have encouraged superficiality in the assessments of managers by firing them all the time. Reason two is our reductionist tendency to see everything at a football club through the prism of whoever is standing in the coaching zone.

This fixation with managers as overlords is a gross distortion - and hides much beneath the surface. The modern Manchester United, for example, cannot be understood except in relation to their rampant commercial agenda, with its 46 official sponsors and £581.2 million in revenues.

United's whole identity, on and off the pitch, is shaped by the owners' belief that the club are a global brand that needed proper sweating. In this scenario, the team are the tail to the kite of deal-making. Fortunes have been made available to Jose Mourinho and his predecessors, but Mourinho's presence only confirms what the club is now about. He was employed without reference to United's stylistic traditions.

After two errors, with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, United convinced themselves they needed a "winner" of any stripe to keep their commercial ambitions afloat.

So any audit of United's season would need to take these deeper factors into account, just as Unai Emery's arrival at Arsenal would point to the huge restructuring undertaken by the board, who have transferred power from the manager (Arsene Wenger) to executives: Raul Sanllehi, the head of football relations, and Sven Mislintat, head of recruitment. Emery is a coach who will accept these structural constraints.

We could mention other variables in the business of where teams end up after 38 Premier League games. How about, for example, the power of agents and hired-gun players, who wield tremendous power, often to destabilise.

History also gets a look-in. At Paris Saint-Germain, Emery hit the same wall as every other PSG manager: the team's inability to switch from a soft life in domestic football to a hard one in the Champions League. Yet that "failure" in Paris has supposedly tarnished his three Europa League wins with Sevilla - a remarkable achievement by any measure for a club of that stature.

So Emery plunges from being one of the most coveted coaches in Europe to an unconvincing, compromise appointment by Arsenal. Why? Because he failed to win, or go close to winning, the Champions League at PSG, who are the Arsenal of France in that competition (perennial fallers in the early knockout rounds).

Manuel Pellegrini's move to West Ham is another case in point. Only when many of West Ham's followers examined his actual record did the mood swing from scepticism to optimism. Those managers who refuse to project their own personality (or just hate the media) pay a price by being labelled dull.

And while Klopp and Guardiola radiate positive energy and plant good messages, no manager ever won the Premier League with press conferences.

Simply, West Ham have hired above their station. Pellegrini coached Villarreal to second place in La Liga, splitting Real Madrid and Barcelona, and to a Champions League semi-final. In his season at Real Madrid he amassed 96 points but still lost his job (a familiar story). His title win at Man City was not sustained. By the end it was hard to see where he was exerting any influence in the big games, and his verbal defensiveness became tedious. But all this was at a much higher level than anything West Ham are accustomed to.

"My mentality is always to have a winning mentality," was not the most convincing mission statement by Pellegrini on the day of his appointment, but he did promise attractive football, which has become the de rigueur candyman's pledge.

By the end of his unveiling, most West Ham fans were persuaded that their leader was a coach of high quality. Managing the club's owners, though, will be harder than managing the team.

Frankly, people complain when the British merry-go-round delivers an Alan Pardew, David Moyes or Sam Allardyce, and dislike it when the job goes to a European any lower than Guardiola, Klopp or Max Allegri. We can expect to go through all this again if/when Everton hire Marco Silva and if/when Chelsea replace Antonio Conte with Maurizio Sarri or Luis Enrique.

Club owners must secretly love this modern scepticism. It weakens the standing of the new appointment and makes him easier to sack if that day should come.

And it conceals all the other questionable decisions that might be made behind the human shield of the head coach, especially on player recruitment. We have set the bar badly on what "a good manager" is. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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