THE SECRET FOOTBALLER: The stale paradox that is the managerial merry-go-round

Our man inside the game on the managerial survivors postponing football’s future.

I enjoy a good paradox. The casual loop is one of my

favourites. A causal loop is a paradox of time travel that occurs when a future event is the cause of a past event, which in turn is the cause of the future event.

Get it?

There are paradoxes everywhere but coming up with one of your own is a tough ask. All the good paradoxes are taken and moreover, I am not, and never will be, on Erwin Schrodinger’s intellectual plane.

Luckily I’m a trier, and even if God does not play dice, or football, he does love a trier.

I watched Saturday’s Premier League matches with a question accelerating around my head. Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson, David Moyes, Mark Hughes… at what point does a club embrace the future and put the firefighting to one side?

The paradox is that in any Premier League season there will be a small collection of clubs that find themselves struggling and will call in the old guard. A further string to the paradox is that young, forward-thinking managers need a job to gain experience but are kept out by the same experienced managers that keep the English game rooted with one foot in the past, one foot in the present, but nothing in the future.

I try not to let my emotions get the better of me when I’m watching football. It clouds one’s judgement. But Mark Hughes annoyed me on Saturday. Southampton came through a cagey match against Bournemouth with three desperately needed points following a 2-1 win.

After nine Premier League matches under Hughes without a win, the city of Southampton celebrated like proverbial World Cup winners. Hughes hugged everybody and for a moment he was king. He fist-pumped the air with such over- enthusiasm that it jolted me into realising why he was so happy.

Hughes will be on a big bonus for keeping Southampton in the Premier League. The Welshman has a short-term deal until the end of the season and clubs know that they can afford to pay many millions to a manager that can steer them to safety because it is more than offset by the average £125m windfall that Premier League members rake in each year.

More than likely that was a £3m fist pump that I watched on Saturday, nothing more, nothing less. These types of deals have been swallowed up for years by ageing managers like Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and anybody else that has ever managed Sunderland. I understand these deals. However, they do nothing for the progress of the game and our future managers.

The old guard serve an important purpose of course. They have experience. In most cases, they are able to use that experience to steer their club to survival. And as long as the equation between their tenancy and Premier League survival adds up to megabucks, they will always be around.

And therein lies the paradox. Young would-be managers cannot gain experience because nobody will give them a job because they don’t have any experience.

So what is the answer? I have long been an advocate of an initiative that I’d like to see the FA implement across the board. Broadly speaking, it would involve the inclusion of a British coach under the age of 35 with managerial intentions to be employed by each club either in their academies or directly with the first team.

That coach can be selected by the current manager and board members of each club otherwise he’ll be ostracised if he is forced upon them. The FA would incentivise the position by capping and subsidising his wages until he has gained knowledge and feels ready to seek a job of his own.

We must start looking to the future and how we can bring young managers through while giving them the best chance to succeed when they are ready to step into the big seat.

An interesting example is the potential recruitment of Steven Gerrard as the manager of Glasgow Rangers. Gerrard was clearly groomed for management from day one and Liverpool would love him to return home one day to take the reigns at Anfield. Because of that they have brought him in to learn his craft with their academy sides. They understand that he will have to learn on the job and that it won’t be with Liverpool, but they have provided a key part of Gerrard’s development for the next phase of his footballing life.

Another point to consider, although not fundamental to managerial prowess, is that we are living in an age where former top-level players have a huge cachet. Steven Gerrard is a brand. The people on the blue half of Glasgow will come out in droves to watch the start of Steven Gerrard’s managerial career but would they come out in such numbers to watch a Mark Hughes side or a Sam Allardyce team?

Many of my peers cannot get a look in anywhere. Managers that recognise their talent are also wary that employing one of these upstarts may ultimately cost them their job so they stick with more of the old guard like Ray Lewington and Sammy Lee; guys that know their place as a number two but who work from a tried and tested handbook that was dished out in the 1980s.

I hear the same arguments coming from fans whenever I bring this up: Just because you played doesn’t mean you should automatically expect to become a coach or a manager. I understand that argument and I could write another column as to the reasons why it’s flawed thinking.

I have seen the talent with my own eyes and I have seen the amount of talent wasted year after year as would-be coaches and managers are forced to seek employment elsewhere when they are continually turned away. There is only so long that one can remain in a state of suspended animation. Eventually, you have to accept reality.

Erwin Schrodinger, since you ask, came up with the Schrodinger’s cat theory. It’s a paradox that asks what happens when you put a cat in the box with a bomb that has a 50% chance of killing the cat. After an hour he asked, ‘what is the state of the cat?’ It’s either dead or alive right? But Schrodinger realised that in the instant before the box is opened the cat is both alive and dead at the same time and it is only when the box is opened that reality collapses into one definite state.

Everton, Southampton, West Ham, Palace… they’re all clubs in a constant flux of becoming and dying. They all have new managers this season but nobody could really make a case that they are either going forward or going backwards. And with the exception of some positive results for Everton, Southampton and Palace this weekend, nobody would say the future of each club lies in the current management.

It’s a paradox that can be resolved, which doesn’t really make it a paradox at all. It’s more of a loop. A loop in which everybody involved travels on a merry-go-round at the expense of the world going on around him. Progress in football happens very slowly. One funeral at a time.


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