The gladiatorial nature of modern football has, without a doubt, lead to managers having an almost cult like status.
Headlines are now dictated by narrative and the soap opera that surrounds the 90 minutes of football. Manchester City could have beaten Liverpool 6-5 in the game of the century but you can almost guarantee that the headline the next day would read something like: ‘Klopp blasts ref over penalty decision.’
In press conferences, leading questions are asked to ensure that the column inches in the build up to a match are filled with two grown men taking swipes at each other rather than focusing on the football. Managerial press conferences are now almost akin to what we see on Sky Sports News before a heavyweight boxing match, with all the trash talking and personal put downs. Managers have become a national obsession; everything from tactics to how sharply they dress on the touchline is micro-analysed.
Therefore, it perhaps not surprising that many football clubs themselves can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to gaffers. Sure, they are important. We’ve seen the impact that having the right person in the dugout can make. At times, the same group of players that looked lost under one boss can be made to look like world beaters under different stewardship. But despite all the focus and attention they receive, successful football clubs usually rely on far more than just appoint the ‘right man’ at the ‘right time.’
Take Sunderland for example, if in 2006 when we were relegated with 15 points, someone had told you that in the next 12 years you would have seen the likes of David Moyes, Martin O’Neil and Dick Advocaat all have spells in charge of the lads you could be forgiven for presuming that we would be an established top half Premier League side, not languishing at the bottom of The Championship.
Unfortunately, the hierarchy have fallen in love with the concept of certain managers and the success they could bring in an ideal world.Take David Moyes for example, at the time people liked the concept of stability and a four year contract that would enable him to oversee a period of steady progress on the pitch. On paper, the Glaswegian was the right man to forge the frameworks and squad necessary to find the stability we so desperately sought.
Sure, he had failed at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, but many were willing to accept a plea of mitigation for these failings. I’ve long since subscribed to the Peter Principle which believes that people continue to get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. It could be argued that Moyes was a victim of this at Manchester United and for whatever reasons wasn’t able to live up to the demands of playing stylish, attacking football in order to win games - a prerequisite that had become synonymous with Sir Alex Ferguson. At Sociedad he was doomed to fail from the outset; with no experience in Spain and a reputation for playing a more direct style of play it wasn’t a surprise to see him sacked relatively quickly.
This obviously turned out to be false and I am, of course talking with the benefit of hindsight and you can’t necessarily blame Bain and Short for appointing him, but it is a microcosm of all our poor decisions over the past few years.
Without proper systems in place off the pitch, the long-term future of the club is always going to be a concern. When Martin O’Neil arrived at the club, we gave him free reign to spend heavily on players we were never likely to get any return on. He was then sacked, before Di Fanti and Di Caniosigned 14 players, before being dismissed just a couple of months later. Overtly, things were slightly different with Gus Poyet and Lee Congerton but the outcome was the same. Poyet wanted to bring into his own players which was proven with his South American buys with assorted Brighton and Hove Albion cast offs. Congerton also had his favourites, most notably, Fabio Borini. Both men acted in their own interests, which resulted in a coalition of chaos with no joined-up thinking.
Even as time has gone on and the money has dried up, we have still relied on the ability of a manager to dig us out of trouble rather than having any sort of strategy. In Simon Grayson it was hoped that a steady pair of hands would be able to stabilise us this season. But what we got instead was a physically deficient squad of players when Grayson has traditionally favoured direct football. When that didn’t work we hoped that bringing in the charisma of Chris Coleman would get us over the line, but again he hasn’t been given the right tools for the job. He’s trying to construct a sturdy house with grains of sand as things stand. I know in our current situation we are trying to operate on a budget but in terms of signings we are like a child who has been given a couple of quid to go and get some bread and milk and he returns with a packet of Haribo’s and a yo-yo.
If we learn one thing from our current mess, it is the need to try and build something. Whether it is in League One or The Championship, we need to establish the type of football we want to play and the type of players we need to fulfil this. Going forward, we certainly can’t just throwing all our faith behind a manager in the hope that we one day stumble across a miracle worker.