What is modern football if not a roller-coaster? We analyse why it is so for the football managers, and whether it’s fair for them to take all the blame.
Vincerà! Vincerò! The spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma rung around the King Power Stadium. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in a Leicester shirt standing on the stage, serenading the club and its supporters in spectacular fashion and the entire footballing world hooked to their television screens. Standing next to Bocelli was a man dressed in a smart suit, chest filled with pride and eyes welling up with the emotions of a long-drawn, hard-fought and unpredictably wonderful season.
Claudio Ranieri. A man who overachieved with a team of largely ageing and in some ways players unwanted at other clubs to win a Premiership title and script the most beautiful story in the history of English, if not world football. Winning the Premier League is no easy feat, but to do it with a team like Leicester is all the more commendable and it is unlikely that it will be repeated. To see him sacked earlier this season is disheartening and symptomatic of a broader problem within modern football. Modern football has transformed into a heartless (in some cases, thoughtless) managerial rollercoaster that continues to chug on and leave its caretakers in a perpetual job-hunt.
Winning the domestic league title, or even the Champions league, does not guarantee a football manager his position anymore. Ranieri might be the most recent casualty of this culture, likely to be joined before the end of the summer by Southampton’s Claude Puel and Watford’s Walter Mazzari, but the hire and fire culture has been on for a while. There are numerous occurrences of managers losing their jobs after what most would consider successful seasons. To mention a couple of the recent ones – Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City and Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid were surprising contenders for the sack.
One particularly baffling case that comes to mind is of Carlo Ancelotti, initially at Chelsea and then at Real Madrid. A manager of his reputation and track record deserves better treatment, let alone the fact that the success he brought to those clubs warranted it. It was also encouraging to see the work being done with the academy at clubs that are more about signing big-name players and having a playing 11 full of stars. For either club to sack a manager that was popular with the staff and fans alike and brought success and stability was confounding to say the least. In most cases, it seems that while the club would benefit from the continuity provided by the manager, the owners have gone for the short-term solution as a result of their impatience. The highly commercial nature of the sport has made it a cauldron of high-pressure for managers and it is understandably difficult for them to perform with a noose permanently hanging above their heads.
The amount of money exchanging hands in the sport now is astonishing and that has been a major contributor to the decrease in patience levels among the decision makers. Having foreign owners compounds the issue. It is difficult for them to truly imbibe the ethos and culture of a football club or country and it is rather convenient for them to run the organization solely as a business. There is a lack of foresight in appointing a leader and consequentially a lack of trust placed in them to see the job through after a run of poor results.
Take for instance Valencia – 11 managers since 2012 shows the organization in very poor light. The owners, for the most part, have been disconnected from the fans and have run the club purely as a business, which has negatively impacted their results over this period. The situation is similar with Swansea who have had 3 managerial changes since last year itself. More recently, the sacking of Walter Mazzarri at Watford also comes as a bit of a shock. It is worse in Italy where managers change more often than seasons. It is not surprising to see the majority of these clubs routinely underachieving and contesting scrappy relegation battles.
The average job duration for a manager nowadays is just about a season long (and would probably be lower if Arsenal and Arsene Wenger didn’t have anything to say about it). Coming back to Claudio Ranieri and Leicester. It is arguable that there could be many other forces at play that are not clearly evident outside of the club that led to the decision to sack Ranieri. He has himself come out and claimed that there was someone at the club that he had differences with. Without getting into the weeds of the matter it is truly astonishing that the man who brought an unpredictable and incredulous title win for Leicester would be thrown overboard in such a ruthless manner. It is difficult to argue against a case for giving him time to turn it around for them in the league, especially given that they were still punching above their weight in the Champions League at the time. All of this points to the fact that whenever there is some issue within a club it is the manager who has to bear the brunt of it. The pervasiveness and omnipresence of social media has left few things secret. Players are quick to vent their frustration on social media and likewise for certain managers and owners as well. Journalists are quick to catch on to rumblings from within a club and spread stories to the masses that cause uneasiness among fans and the club alike. Internal issues are quickly made public knowledge leading to added pressure from the outside.
Well, what’s the solution to this never-ending rollercoaster? While it is easy to talk from a position wherein there are no personal stakes involved, it is clear that owners need to take a step back and let the club be run by the experts – the managers. The leaders that they appointed to run the club in the first place. While it might not always be possible to acquire your top target, there could definitely be more thought put into the selection process. For this, it is imperative that the owners and chairmen have a good understanding of the club and the expectations of its fans.
The progress that Bournemouth have made through the leagues with Eddie Howe is a great example. Everton have followed a good blueprint as well and, after great consistency under David Moyes, made solid and popular appointments in Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman. They have supported and stood by their manager by and large and have had consistent results as well. For owners who wish to follow their lead, engaging more with local supporters is one way to identity the culture of a club and better understand its values. Including ex-professionals and club ambassadors in advisory panels could be another way to bridge the divide between the money-men and the club. While this is a hopeful and romantic idea wherein owners completely understand the club and work in its best interests, it feels right for it to be a part of any sophisticated solution and would definitely have a positive impact.
From the mega-rich to the poor, every club could benefit from the continuity provided by having a “suitable” manager taking the club forward. It is the responsibility of the owners and the board to appoint the right man and subsequently support the manager so as to work in a symbiotic manner for the long-term progress of the club. Even a carefully appointed manager might turn out to be the wrong choice and that could be a question of bad timing or misfortune. Its much worse though to rush into a decision to appoint a manager as that has rarely proven to be of long-term benefit to the club. For this seemingly endless rollercoaster to stop, there have to be drastic measures taken by the owners and the board to align their business expectations or needs with the culture, history and expectation of the club and its fans.
To see more nights as the one in Leicester, with the club, fans and players all as one would be wonderful. Maybe the “Dilly Ding Dilly Dong” of Ranieri should serve as a wake-up call for world football and not just Leicester alone.