Christmas is almost upon us and, as ever in football, the headlines are dominated by talk about the sack.
This week we have seen another two Premier League managers — Steve Clarke at West Brom and Andre Villas-Boas at Spurs — lose their jobs, while Malky Mackay seems to have been given a ‘jump or you’ll be pushed’ ultimatum at Cardiff. In recent weeks we have also heard constant speculation about managers from Chris Hughton to Sam Allardyce, all of which reflects the huge pressure imposed on gaffers by the financial implications of either relegation or, in Spurs’ case, not making that illustrious top four brigade for Champions League football.
I do have sympathy for these managers but in AVB’s case, probably less so. For a start, he was appointed as Spurs ‘head coach’ and not the manager. I have no doubt that when AVB took the job, he was aware of what the chairman, Daniel Levy, is like and how he does business. Over recent seasons, he has sought to exert more control over the club by implementing a very continental approach with the appointment of a director of football. He has had Damien Comolli in the past and that seemed to work quite well, but it seems Franco Baldini’s appointment in June was the beginning of the end for AVB.
With the money available from Gareth Bale’s transfer to Madrid, Spurs were forced to act quickly in the transfer market and, to be blunt, they simply didn’t invest well.
In the days since AVB’s dismissal it’s become very apparent that a lot of the signings made were not his but rather the preference of Levy and Baldini. I know this happens a lot in football in Spain and Italy but, it has less of a tradition in England and, perhaps for that reason, I simply don’t think it works. If Harry Redknapp was still in charge of Spurs, I’m sure he would have argued his case more strongly than I’d imagine AVB did, but then that was probably one of the reasons Redknapp was sacked by the club even after leading them to fourth in the Premier League.
I feel AVB has been fortunate to have had the jobs he has had at such a young age, and all on the back of his achievements with Porto. He learned his trade under the tutorship of Jose Mourinho and I think this has gone a long way to convincing chairmen and owners that they are getting the ‘new Mourinho’.
But what tends to be overlooked, in my opinion, is that AVB was fortunate at Porto in having a very good side already in place when he took over and, although there is no doubting he did a fine job there, he did have the luxury of a strike force of Falcao and Hulk in a league that isn’t regarded as one of the best in Europe.
That said, I felt for him taking over a Chelsea team that needed to change, as certain key players were aging. AVB wanted to deal with these huge characters head on but was probably a little naive in the way he went about it.
The likes of Terry, Lampard and Drogba had been the heart of the team for probably a decade and to try and get rid of them all at once was never going to end well, especially when they have Mr Abramovich on speed dial.
When he was appointed as Spurs ‘head coach’ I initially thought it was a good fit. Last season they had a fine campaign and played some very good football but, compared to the current side, that was a very different team, not only in personnel but also in style of play. Obviously, their main weapon last season was Bale, and when games were close he often made the difference with moments of sublime skill. Over the last few seasons, Spurs have always had players with pace out wide, mainly Bale and Lennon, but the team that has been assembled this season really lacks genuine speed and that makes it easier for the opposition to defend against them.
Going back to the managerial exit door, there are similarities in the way Spurs and West Brom are run, in that they both have chairmen who are very much involved in transfer activity, although West Brom probably less so.
To my mind, Steve Clarke has been a victim of his own success last season, having guided the club to their best Premier League finish. But having gained a reputation as a club that yo-yo’d between the Championship and Premier League for a number of seasons, West Brom clearly made the decision to change manager because they’re terrified of losing Premier League status.
Nevertheless, I feel it was harsh, even if I’m never surprised by anything I see now in football. The only comfort Clarke can take is that I don’t believe his reputation in the game has been tarnished by the dismissal, with the overall success of his stint in charge of West Brom proving he can indeed manage and not just be a number two. The manager who I most sympathise with currently is Malky Mackay, as he seems to be stuck in the middle of an ongoing public spat with the owner of Cardiff, Vincent Tan. Reading between the lines, it seems as if neither party want to end it as there will be financial implications if Malkay resigns and, likewise, if they sack him. I have never seen anything like this stand-off and, for all concerned, they need to go their separate ways as soon as possible.
For someone like myself who is taking my Uefa Coaching Licence, all of this does make you think twice about the minefield you could face should you decide to go into management. But football is like a drug and, when you’re involved in it, it’s very hard to envisage doing anything else once you hang up your boots.
That’s why when people ask, ‘Who’d be a manager?’, the truthful answer is probably a whole host of retired players.
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