Sunday, 2 January 2011

Football is a Results Business: Why managers losing their jobs is an understandable part of the modern game

The celebrations are over, the hangovers have just about faded away, 2011 is up and running. And with the new year comes the inevitable resolutions for self-improvement. They are often unrealistic targets and are usually abandoned before we enter February. With that in mind, I thought it would be apt to look at the life of Premiership managers who live their lives attempting to meet the high targets set for them and who, like our new year resolutions, are often abandoned as swiftly as they came.

At this time of the season everyday is filled with mounting pressures and increased speculation for Premiership managers. In a season when two managers, Hughton and Allardyce, have already been released by their respective clubs in baffling circumstances it seems as though the next casualty is not far away. With half the season completed and the transfer window reopened the question must be asked, when is the right time for changing managers?

Obviously, each case must be judged on its own unique merits. In my opinion though, and I said it following the Hughton sacking, patience will usually prove more beneficial than knee-jerk reactions. The old cliché may say that it is a results business and ultimately that is true. What chairmen must remember, however, is that managers need time. Every manager comes with their own football philosophy, style of play and certain types of players they like to utilise. It takes time for these managerial preferences to be implemented. If they are allowed the time then the results can often follow.

With all that being said, we cannot and should not be surprised when a manager is given the proverbial and unceremonious boot out the door. Football is a business. It is therefore no surprise that it is run that way. Targets are made and faith is placed in certain individuals, namely the manager, to hit those targets. When clubs fall below expectations or the faith is lost in the manager then a change is to be expected.

The problem is often that a board sets their targets too high or do not give a manager a suitable amount of time to try and reach their assigned targets. Nevertheless, there is no room for sentiment in football. There are people who do harder jobs for much less money who live their lives by the same rules. If you do not perform as expected or desired then you can expect to lose your job and they don't usually receive the kind of pay-off that many managers are handed as they pack their bags.

Incidents like those at Newcastle and Blackburn this season were, of course, all together different. Both managers had their clubs over-performing and yet still lost their jobs, hence the widespread indignation at the decisions by friends and foes of the respective clubs alike. These are cases when the owners of a club clearly did not have the faith, rightly or wrongly, in the manager to take the club in the direction they wanted. Alternatively, there may have been a breakdown in relations between manager and board and we are all too aware that a manager will never win such a conflict. Of course they wont, they are not the ones who own the clubs.

For all those who follow football it is impossible to separate our own passions from the game. That is why we usually do not like to see managers sacked. A love for the game, attachment to certain clubs or feelings about particular managers or individuals can cloud the unavoidable fact that football is also a money-making machine. Premiership survival or European qualification is a matter of well-documented, massive financial gain for the owners. They do what they believe is best to help them achieve their targets.

Roy Hodgson may be a nice man who has done great things in the past, but he has proven himself unable to help Liverpool to progress. In fact, they have got worse this season. Blame can be directed at Rafa Benitez but Roy Hodgson has a squad that ought to be much higher than ninth. Liverpool have been unconvincing even when they have won and have given little reason to inspire hope. Thus it is no surprise that his future at Anfield looks so bleak, even with a 2-1 win over Bolton. Other managers like Gerard Houllier, Mark Hughes and Avram Grant are also yet to convince at their new clubs. They may be 'good football men' but that means nothing when your team is at the wrong end of the table.

As hard as it is for many of us to accept, myself included, football is run in a cold and heartless way by many clubs. It is a question of making the club successful to make money. Giving managers long tenures at a club or playing attractive football is very much secondary. Admirable performances, like Villa's at Stamford Bridge today when they should have taken the full three points, count for nothing come the end of the season. The notions of hope and trust we as fans may place in a manager's ability does not mean that he ought to be given another six months. When a board loses the faith they once had in a manager then they will quickly look elsewhere. If a business loses money week-in-week-out then changes will be made, that much is obvious.

Let me reiterate, this does not make it right. Nor is it always beneficial to replace a failing manager. If allowed time to bring in the right players and implement their own style of play at a club then Houllier and Hodgson may yet prove to be very successful for their respective clubs. For the record, I would like to see Houllier and Hodgson given to the end of the season rather than judging them too soon. As I have touched upon before though, It is part of the modern game, and although many of us strongly dislike the way football clubs are run, it is simply the way it is.

Twenty games have been played and now boardrooms across the country will be debating whether changing the man at the top could help them make a surge in the second half of the season to try elevate their league position. Owners may have friends out of work who are looking for a job, they may think that their club should be doing better than it realistically ought to be doing or they may think that the man in charge is not right for the job and then react accordingly. That is the way businesses are run and that is the way many football clubs are run.

We may sympathise, we may not think it is right but it is, unfortunately, just part of the modern game. There may be rare examples of smaller clubs who have a much stronger sense of loyalty to managers but in the Premiership if you fail to deliver then expect the repercussions to be swift and damning.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. Born in the early 70s, in my mind managers getting sacked is simply a fact of football life, what seems to have changed in the professional game is the way they are now structured around the transfer window with Chairman making a conscious decision to either back the existing manager or go for a new one in December

  2. Works both ways, I suppose. Managers are increasingly quick to change clubs too (Steve Bruce being just one of many examples). If Hodgson does get the sack, he'll have his pay-off to tide him over until he finds a new job.

    As you say, it's all about results. Both sides - owners and managers - should know by now what they're getting into.

  3. I think you are both spot on.

    Steve, great point. The way speculation increases dramatically in December and January is a sign of how transfer windows become the 'crunch time' for Chairmen to decide if they are willing to keep their faith in a manager to lead their club to success.

    Micheal, you are absolutely right. People should not be so quick to over sympathise with managers. They jump ship when a better offer comes along (look at Owen Coyle or indeed Hodgson himself) and they get handsome pay-offs if they are sacked. As you say, both sides are well aware of the way things are run.

  4. It was a great celebrations. I still have hangover. but I really enjoyed the football and beers.


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