Saturday 18 November 2017

Welcome to life as a top manager – a crazy and disturbing world

Andre Villas-Boas. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Andre Villas-Boas. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Michael Calvin

Sacked on a whim, tradition ditched at will, new rich owners valuing ruthlessness above sense – and amid all this chaos where are the supposed protectors of the game, the Football Association?

Greg Dyke, the FA's self-styled Head of Light Entertainment, genuflected before 150 years of history when he laid a wreath at the grave of Ebenezer Morley, the organisation's founding father, at a disused cemetery in the south western London suburb of Barnes on Thursday. The symbolism of the moment was rather more illuminating than he intended.

The worthies looked steadfastly backwards in a reverie of self-congratulation without noticing that the game they are supposed to protect was imploding. Dead men were walking and concerned citizens were talking about a crisis of leadership, the lack of a moral compass and an absence of credibility.

The charade involving Malky Mackay, played out with theatrical dissonance at and around Anfield yesterday, highlighted the dysfunctional relationship between celebrated serfs who have the power of public profile, and malign club owners who strip their managers of authority and dignity.

Football's evolutionary cycle is accelerating. Mackay's inevitable sacking will make him the 25th managerial casualty of the season. To use a cruelly inappropriate phrase, nearly half of those had enjoyed less than a year in the job. They are prey to the whims of men like Vincent Tan, or Tan Sri Dato' Seri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun, to give Cardiff's owner the perceived dignity of his full name.

The new breed of club owner, welcomed into the game without due diligence by administrators in thrall to unfeasible wealth, buys loyalty, demands deference and expects gratitude. He imposes his will regardless of cost, circumstance or conscience.

He has no concept of the conventions of the game, nor of the fundamental principles of mutual trust and respect. Fans are irrelevant even if, like those following Cardiff's defeat at Liverpool, they chant "you'll have a riot on your hands" when they become disaffected.

Victims and supplicants do not help themselves, because football magnifies ambition and diminishes self-respect. Contracts are increasingly certifications of value rather than confirmation of commitment. In a compensation culture, Tan will have no shortage of Yes Men to do his bidding.

Former Cardiff manager Dave Jones, being promoted as a viable technical director, is sufficiently familiar to evoke a sense of sadness. The candidature of Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose last three jobs have been with Al Nasr in Dubai, BEC Tero in Thailand and Guangzhou in China, is faintly pathetic. The prospect of an outsider like Yilmaz Vural, a nondescript veteran of 20 clubs in his native Turkey, taking control is risible.

As so often, Arsène Wenger, football's longest-serving manager, is the quiet voice of reason: "Technical stability is important in football," he said, in offering his support to Mackay. "There are some countries where the instability of managers is chronic. After that happens, there is no quality. It's very important for the quality of the game that there is stability."

The Brotherhood are stirring. The tradition that managers do not criticise the running of rival clubs has been ignored in the last 48 hours. Brendan Rodgers and Steve Bruce joined Wenger in questioning Tan's plausibility, a stance which suggests members of the League Managers' Association are being mobilised.

Richard Bevan, the LMA's progressive chief executive, has the foresight, intuition and leadership skills sadly lacking in Alex Horne, who is paid a scarcely credible annual salary of £528,000 for a comparable role, as the FA's general secretary.

Bevan is seeking to establish his organisation's authority, and espouses professionalism in the form of mandatory qualifications. Yet his case is weakened by expedience and ignorance. At Tottenham, who are undergoing an existential crisis in the wake of the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood's slavering sense of entitlement is more apparent than his aptitude for the job.

"If it was down to me I would be getting a 10-year contract now," the caretaker manager observed, glossing over his lack of a Pro Licence and a tactical approach developed in the Lower Paleolithic era. In another generation, Sherwood would be quietly learning his trade at a lower level at a former club like Watford.

Yet, when a vacancy appeared at Vicarage Road on Monday, following the resignation of Gianfranco Zola, it was filled with indecent haste by Giuseppe Sannino, a journeyman Italian coach who has had 15 such jobs in 17 years.

He lacks a grasp of English and an appreciation of the culture of the Championship. Yet, since he is as interchangeable as a light bulb, he suits the business plan. British managers of genuine promise, such as Dean Smith at Walsall, Gary Rowett at Burton Albion and Paul Tisdale at Exeter, are being denied a suitable career path.

As Sam Allardyce said of one of his former coaches, Karl Robinson of MK Dons: "If he was called Carlos Robinsiniho, he'd already be in the Premier League."

Even Middlesbrough's Steve Gibson, rightly regarded as one of football's best owners, is strategically re-positioning his club. He has employed Spanish coach Aitor Karanka and intends to rely on short-term loans, sourced from Europe by a restructured scouting department, rather than a productive Academy.

The modern orthodoxy that a manager needs a director of football to develop the multifarious relationships required in modern recruitment is double edged. One manager of my acquaintance, who works within such a model, hails it as "a breath of fresh air".

He retains the final say in transfer dealings, but is free to concentrate on coaching and man-management rather than "spending half my day on the phone, dealing with agents".

The model may work in a stable setting, but football clubs are overtly political institutions. During times of change, individuals pursue their own agendas and create conflicting empires. Insecure managers resent directors of football because they survive the consequences of their actions and wield power without responsibility.

And power is what this all comes down to. It is all very well, and entirely understandable, for Cardiff fans to flaunt banners which proclaim: "We Want Our Club Back". But the cost of doing so is ruinous. According to the last set of accounts, Tan has given Cardiff a £37 million loan at advantageous interest rates of seven per cent.

If he calls in the debt, which has surely increased, the club will self-destruct. Hull are similarly vulnerable if the equally volatile Assem Allam demands recompense.

Joe Kinnear, Newcastle's so-called director of football, embodies the contempt of owner Mike Ashley for anyone who fails to share his mercenary instincts.

The FA, of course, do nothing but prevaricate and pontificate. The organisation remains a relic of history and deserves a dignified interment, the like of which was afforded Ebenezer Morley.

Year-by-year 'casualties' since start of the Premier League

1992-93 22 bosses on day one, 21 still with their club on final day

1993-94 22/14

1994-95 22/11

1995-96 20/19

1996-97 20/13

1997-98 20/15

1998-99 20/15

1999-00 20/16

2000-01 20/14

2001-02 20/14

2002-03 20/16

2003-04 20/13

2004-05 20/13

2005-06 20/16

2006-07 20/12

2007-08 20/12

2008-09 20/13

2009-10 20/15

2010-11 20/16

2011-12 20/16

2012-13 20/15

2013-14 20/15... so far

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