Educated by the Incumbent
Chelsea appointed an interim manager to replace their interim manager...and already he’s in trouble. Today on the blog, Andrew Winn explains how, with a little bit of common sense, other clubs could avoid sinking into similar levels of desperation.
There will be a day in the not-too-distant future when, on the release of a particularly monumental news story, the football world will spontaneously collapse into a frenzied mess of part excitement, part panic. That will be the day Sir Alex Ferguson announces his retirement.
It may seem like a crass prediction to make, particularly as only the man himself knows when it’s due, but given how much the press and media in Britain like to make something out of nothing with rumours and heresay on something as trivial as transfers, you can imagine the field day they’d have when the last remaining link to the eighties is severed from the British game he helped transform. Before Sir Alex has even started packing up the boxes in his office, newspapers and the Internet will be chock-a-block full of ten-a-penny articles and lists detailing every waking moment of it, repeating ad nauseum what has happened, why it happened, what is likely to come next, as well as everyone’s favourite: who his replacement may be.
It’s nothing new, of course; there are hundreds of these ‘who could be next?’ articles on Ferguson already gathering cyber-dust. Each year, through form or graft, names get added or removed, but whilst the Scot remains incumbent, other clubs around him sack and replace managers so often in some instances that he must start to wonder if it’s worth learning their name. In the same week that his club were erecting a statue commemorating Ferguson’s reign, two west London clubs were looking for their umpteenth manager of his tenure.
So often have they replaced managers, in fact, that you start to question why nobody at either club has realised that the method they use to fix something that isn’t working, itself isn’t working. Of course, fans of Queens Park Rangers or Chelsea will point out that there has been a certain level of success in their recent history: the former won the Championship under a manger who lasted just 84 games, whilst the latter are on their third manager in a calendar year in which they achieved a European and domestic cup double; neither accolade enough to keep either manager in a job a few months after.
So, a new manager is hurriedly installed, with his own ideas, tactics and possibly new players if the appointment is timed alongside a transfer window, and so the cycle resets. After Neil Warnock’s reign at Loftus Road stuttered to an end, the club spent a total of two days deciding the next step, concluding with the bland appointment of Mark Hughes, a manager who couldn’t gel the signings that appeared at Manchester City into a functioning team, but was brought in to do a similar job in London regardless. His inevitable demise came 32 games later, and so the cycle resets.
Chelsea, on the other hand, had shown signs of adopting a different approach, though this could easily be explained by the complete lack of viable alternatives. After Carlo Ancelotti was dismissed with a £6 million severance pay, the club brought in André Villas-Boas for a further £13 million. The plan B that was implemented upon Villas-Boas’ rather abrupt sacking was to promote from within, with the reigns handed to his assistant Roberto Di Matteo, albeit on an interim basis. Despite the cup double, he lasted only a total of two games more than his predecessor.
There could be arguments on whether the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo was correct or not, considering he won the trophy that Roman Abramovich had sacked more illustrious names for not winning. The glaring issue this time round is that there was no new plan B for the old plan B, no bright young understudy, ready to step up into centre stage. Instead, they reverted back to the same old system: appointing a stranger and so, you guessed it, the cycle resets.
It would be brave to mention Liverpool at this point. The Merseyside club may also be guilty in recent times of short-term fixes without any signs of a practical long-term plan, but this is as much of a reflection of modern football if anything else. It never used to be like that; during the club’s most successful period, they too promoted from within. The success that was bred under Shankly was continued on by those he shared the infamous Boot Room with: Paisley, Fagan, and to a lesser extent, Dalglish and Moran. When a retirement came, there was a ready-made replacement, equipped to continue on the tradition learnt under previous successful regimes. More importantly, it worked.
What was commonplace at Liverpool could and should be utilised with clubs today, considering the modern-day example can be seen at Barcelona. Perhaps the greatest club side of a generation, blessed with undoubtedly the best player of a generation, it could be said that the transition from Guardiola to Vilanova this season has been painless. Even so, the hierarchy kept faith in promoting an assistant who had been alongside Pep during one of the finest eras of the clubs history, and it should come to no surprise that the club were willing for it to continue as such. It could have been considered a risk, but when you compare how appointments are dealt with clubs like Chelsea, it’s a far more sensible and significantly cheaper risk worth taking.
With regards to Sir Alex, he’ll retire soon; perhaps in 2016, around his 30 year anniversary, perhaps sooner. He’ll take his lifetime seat for every home game next to Sir Bobby, overlooking his successor much like the colossal North stand that bears his name. As for his eventual successor, don’t be surprised if we see somebody already at the club to step into his shadow.
The Odds: Pep Guardiola is currently best priced at odds of 2.10 with Skybet to be next Chelsea manager, with Jose Mourinho listed at 4.50, while Guardiola is best priced at 4.00 with BetVictor to become the next manager at Old Trafford.
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Find more of A.D's writing at his blog ADWinn.com