If the story is right, the most entertaining moments of Swansea City’s season have probably come in the club canteen.
Picture it. Four amigos approach their seats. A jostle for position. Then a rare spurt, in a one-paced side, to burn off a victim of Michael Laudrup’s three-Spaniards-per-table rule.
We can only imagine how many trays of pasta and steamed chicken have gone flying, and how many times Chico Flores has wound up on the floor holding his face, appealing to the chef.
It is always the highlight of Sacking Week — the behind-the-scenes leaks lamenting where it all went wrong.
Much like any workplace, most of the grousing will be done at lunchtime; whether it is about the scarcity of ketchup or Spaniards on your table. But aside from an attempt to enforce integration via dining quotas; it appears that Laudrup’s chief problem was that he didn’t have many other rules. The implication now is that he couldn’t be bothered thinking any up.
Less than a year ago, when Laudrup was the hot property that brought Swansea their first major trophy; when he was the man “ready to snub Real Madrid to stay at the Liberty Stadium”; when he was the man with The Philosophy; there was no pressure on him to make up rules.
“I say to my players that I am their manager — not a policeman or their father — and try to give them a certain amount of freedom. If they make mistakes, I deal with it accordingly, but I treat them as adults not children.”
It seems the Swansea lads needed stricter parenting. In a way, it is a miracle they were able to organise a players’ delegation to the chairman; the means de rigueur of introducing Sacking Week, a new version of the “vote of confidence from the board”.
By way of variety, this delegation didn’t convene because an angry megalomaniac was shouting at them and denying them ketchup; but because a relaxed dude wouldn’t shout at them and tell them to stop drinking at training camps.
And when your players can’t figure out when to stop drinking; it’s probably not wise either to leave them to their own devices to deal with Andy Carroll.
Laudrup mightn’t be a megalomaniac, but he might be a narcissist. You could, if you wanted, piece some of the rows and walkouts over the years into that picture. A man consumed with controlling his image rather than the people around him?
A narcissist probably wouldn’t get off the bench while being hammered by Spurs, in case he looked panicky. The hair, too, might offer clues in that regard. Especially if reports are true that he wouldn’t take training in the rain.
But it really doesn’t matter. Because we can only know that, whatever Laudrup did, whatever rules he came up with, it would invariably have turned sour. The man who was thrown in the air by his players at Wembley would eventually have been dumped back to earth, if he didn’t dump them first.
And whichever way it ended up, he probably wasn’t going to be allowed back to the canteen to say his goodbyes.
But might there be a more mature way of approaching these things? The average tenure of a Premier League manager is now barely a year. Yet still we fret about the merry-go-round, rather than accept the inevitability — at most clubs — of the seesaw effect.
The impact of a manager is usually prolonged only if there is something realistic the club can achieve. For clubs Swansea’s size, achievement, like last season’s, is a once-a-century long shot.
The consolidation that must follow an achievement, like winning a cup or avoiding relegation, is a different job. Often, the same manager isn’t up to it. Or up for it.
You could suggest the Europa League might have provided some interest this season, for Laudrup. But if you are relying on the Europa League for inspiration, you have probably already lost the canteen.
This year’s Laudrup, Gus Poyet, will face the same challenge next year when the drudgery of consolidation is all he has to look forward to while he waits for the bigger job. If his players throw him in the air at Wembley next month, the end is probably closer.
Sure, we have seen exceptions; people like Curbishley, Moyes, Pulis and even, to an extent, Wenger have extended their impact without needing glory. But even if they didn’t grow weary, many fans did.
But much of the inevitable rancour when clubs and managers “part company” is linked to the conceit inherent in the appointments. The four-year-contracts, the talk of eras.
It is the kind of conceit that saw Joe Kinnear hired, some suggest, simply to annoy Alan Pardew into tearing up the long contract he was given. And fired, this week, maybe because Pards actually began to enjoy those tall tales about JFK and the Supremes.
None of the usual guff really rang true at Swansea, which could ever only have provided a stepping stone to reboot Laudrup’s rep.
Maybe it is time to accept, instead, that most jobs are now short-term project management gigs. Jump on the seesaw and enjoy the brief ride.
Databall covers all the angles
We might be tired, by now, of moneyball. And maybe it never truly worked as well away from baseball anyway.
But it looks like we are only getting started with databall.
This might be bad news for those already maddened by possession stats and action areas and the pass completion numbers that always seem to prove Tom Cleverley had a good game, no matter what your eyes protest. But the kind of numbers they have planned for the NBA should open eyes rather that offer hiding places.
Applied to football, databall should be able to see through what Arsene Wenger tends to call “sterile domination”.
It will take smarter people than me to explain it right; the kind of people who will present a research paper at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this month (bit.ly/databall).
But, essentially, every split-second of a game can be plotted — using drones in the rafters — and the position of every player on the court, factoring in their known abilities, can be analysed to create “an expected possession value”.
Then the whole thing is calculated again a split-second later, when somebody’s action will have upped or reduced the EPV. From there, you build something bigger than my laptop or brain could handle.
Not to worry, though; no matter how interesting or bamboozling it becomes, there will always be a commentator ready to assure us that only one statistic matters.
HEROES & VILLAINS
Stairway to heaven:
Jose Mourinho: There was still the nonsense about milking little horses to contend with afterwards, but Monday night brought a reminder of the genius behind the bullshit.
Michael Van Gerwen: The champion mopped up any unfinished business from the Ally Pally with a brutal whitewash of The Power in the Premier League opener.
Hell in a handcart:
Borgata Terrenove: Scored eight own-goals in the last 10 minutes of a Coppa Sicilia match. Ah lads.
The Black Card: Hard to know yet whether things would be worse if it doesn’t work at all, or if it works too well. At times, it’s easy to forget that the humble foul is the glue holding Gaelic football together.
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