Week 32 – Who’s really in charge? (2013-14 Premier League column for Goal Japan)
There are three types of ‘football manager’. By this, I refer not to the personalities or managerial techniques of the individuals in question, but rather the job descriptions implied by the term. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that there are three types of football club, distinguished by who is really in charge. The positioning of the big cheese, the man most responsible for long-term strategy, has a defining impact on the role and life expectancy of he who sits nominally behind the manager’s door.
The first paradigm is the nouveau riche, the clubs flung suddenly to the forefront regardless of historical status by the massive injection of financial capital. Here, the most important person is the owner (alternatively a representative thereof), whether an actual living person like Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, or a corporate person such as the Qatar Investment Authority for Paris Saint-Germain. This model is arguably the newest, carried to extreme orders of magnitude beyond the imagination of earlier entrepreneurs from Blackburn Rovers’ steel magnate Jack Walker to PSG’s prior experience with Canal+.
It also typically sits most uncomfortably with fans and observers, but despite this, is the easiest of the three to understand. Long-term success is the expected product of sustained, nine- or ten-figure investment. The manager is provided with world-class playing resources to deliver trophies immediately; if he fails, he is quickly expendable. Just ask Antoine Kombouaré, Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, André Villas-Boas, Roberto di Matteo, or even José Mourinho. Should Manuel Pellegrini fail to add to his Capital One Cup success this term, vultures will be hovering close by to monitor his early progress next.
The second is the hybrid model, or the ‘continental’ model as we like to refer to it in England – partly in deference to its modernity, and partly to imply due scepticism for anything devised offshore from our islands by one of those flashy Euro types. Here, it is the technical director who calls the shots – ideally overseeing transfer policy and devising a long-term playing strategy which filters down from first team to youth academy. In such a setup, the manager should enjoy a little more job security, though if he does leave – be it down to poor results or a new challenge – the technical director can appoint an appropriate successor without veering from the underlying vision.
I say ‘should’, for rarely has this paradigm been implemented properly or with full conviction in the Premier League. Almost always, this has been because the technical director joins the club second and is thrust upon the undermined, incumbent manager – thus recklessly subverting the whole principle of having the former appoint a gaffer he can work with. The farcical situation at Newcastle United with Dennis Wise in the boardroom led to the resignation of Kevin Keegan, who had managed the former Chelsea captain with England just eight years previously. Harry Redknapp was such an overshadowing presence as director of football at Portsmouth that he actually usurped Graham Rix as manager. But the true master of this field is Avram Grant – such a supportive director was the Israeli at both Chelsea and Pompey that he replaced Mourinho and Paul Hart in the respective dugouts within about two months apiece.
Tottenham Hotspur were at least a little more intelligent in doing things the wrong way around, recruiting Franco Baldini from Roma in part due to the recommendation of then-manager André Villas-Boas. But while AVB reportedly hoped the Gareth Bale cash would be spent on João Moutinho, Hulk, and David Villa, Baldini instead went four better and signed seven entirely different players; it looked like decent business until the Portuguese was sacked in December with none of the new faces having really yet fit in. Tim Sherwood exposed a lack of the unified philosophy supposedly implied by this type of management structure by immediately introducing a different style of play upon his promotion from the academy. Latest gossip is that Spurs want Louis van Gaal, but the Dutchman will refuse to answer to Baldini or any other technical director.
Greater success has come through slight overlaps in the Venn diagram. Swansea City have not installed a director of football, but a vision for the club at boardroom level saw them smoothly through four managerial changes from Kenny Jackett to Michael Laudrup with a visibly consistent development in playing philosophy throughout. At Liverpool, nobody has been brought in as director of football since Damien Comolli’s ill-fated stint between 2010 and 2012, but instead there is now a four-man ‘transfer committee’ of which manager Brendan Rodgers is part. The new setup was responsible for the coups of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. However, given the bodged attempts at re-jigging the defensive resources last summer, the former Swansea boss could be forgiven for craving greater autonomy.
For this would take him, and Liverpool, into our third and final paradigm. This is the model most conservative, yet even as it slips out of fashion, it remains undoubtedly the most familiar to British football and still probably the most coveted by senior managers (see Redknapp in the face of QPR’s ownership or, potentially, Van Gaal at Tottenham). It is the style adhered to by Arsenal and Manchester United, and it offers the manager the greatest job security of all. Put simply, not only does this manager oversee the first team, but it is he who exercises supreme control over the club’s entire long-term agenda – essentially encompassing every football-related aspect from recruitment to diet, technology to pitch conditioning. As Sir Alex Ferguson put it: “The most important person in the club is the manager. And that must always be sacrosanct.”
Of course, there will be delegation along the way. But even then, Arsène Wenger is no stranger to the label ‘dictator’, and ultimately, the manager is all powerful. In this model, it is a bigger, more encompassing job than in either of our previous two templates; highest up the echelons of relative command. It is this very job description that allowed Ferguson to remain in charge for 1,500 matches; Wenger for 1,000 and counting. Simultaneously, only this definition of a manager could have afforded the Frenchman almost nine years to further his speciality – as some have cruelly put it – in failure. Only in this paradigm is David Moyes still given the opportunity to lay out his future plans at the end of Manchester United’s worst ever Premier League season for the directors to decide if they remain on board.
For better or for worse, the clubs who follow the classic British model are left with a responsibility to trust in their manager. But all the more, given the breadth of his responsibility, the greater chunk of the club and its overall strategy he therefore represents, it is a far harder decision to remove him.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Week 32 – Who’s really in charge? (2013-14 Premier League column for Goal Japan):