WHO’D be a football manager in this hostile climate?
It must be one of the most thankless tasks around, especially when there’s cup competitions about to make you look a dunce. The thing that seems to be forgotten when it comes to football bosses is that the vast majority of them have, by whatever route, earned the right to manage in football and are generally – with the odd exception – fully qualified.
In essence, regardless of how they fare in their respective jobs, they are still far better placed to pick and organise a team than the rest of us, regardless of public opinion to the contrary. I’m not saying managers get everything right, of course they don’t. But, considering the fact managers are usually the hardest-working people at any football club, it must be soul-destroying if you end a tough week on the end of poisonous abuse.
This past midweek, it was Craig Brown and to a lesser extent Ally McCoist and Paulo Sergio who were called into question after humbling League Cup exits against lower-league opposition. I have to say I’ve got maximum sympathy for all three, as I did for Colin Calderwood and Neil Lennon when they were the victims of mud-slinging earlier in the week. I might be a freak or I may just be a football manager in the making, but I find I agree with about 90 per cent of decisions football managers make. It’s pretty sad – and it seems to be a reflection of the spoilt, bitter, disrespectful society we live in – that managers are seen as fair game for the most vitriolic abuse, and, at times, downright public humiliation. After the high-profile cup exits last week, it’s automatically the beaten managers who get it in the neck. Cup upsets are simply part and parcel of football and will hopefully remain so.
Did Brown really prepare his Aberdeen players any less diligently for East Fife than he used to deal with his impressive Motherwell side a few years ago? I doubt it. Cup shocks happen. It’s usually a result of the underdog playing the game of their lives, while the team who are expected to win can subconsciously slacken off because of the relatively low-key nature of the game.
People will argue that these guys are well-paid pros so should never switch off, but, first and foremost, they are humans, with the same capacity for erring as the rest of us. I recall Robbie Savage making a good point about cup upsets when he suggested that lower-league footballers, on a one-off occasion, are capable of playing at a high level, but the reason they play in the lower-leagues is that they are unable to do it consistently. It just so happens that these guys often save their best for the big games.
As for Brown, the fact he has suffered a cup upset makes him no different to pretty much every Dons manager in the last 20 years. Indeed Jimmy Calderwood was one of the most susceptible to a cup upset, yet he was still overall arguably the most successful manager they’ve had in that time.
Fair enough if the Dons’ poor league form continues long term, then change might be needed. But even if they do change the manager, his replacement would still be working under the same restraints. Is it really worth it?
McCoist and Sergio, both on the back of good league form, got caned for resting players, but, if I was a manager, I’d do the same. You’re generally judged on your league form, so you don’t want your key men getting injured in a tournament for which the only real reward is a day out at Hampden. No Europe and certainly not the same prestige as the Scottish Cup. Look at Birmingham last year. They won the League Cup and got relegated. I’m pretty certain, in hindsight, that if Alex McLeish could have sacrificed his League Cup run in return for an extra two league points, he’d have done so.
In short, the majority of bosses are shrewd operators who know what they’re doing. There are so many factors that can effect a football match that it’s sheer laziness – and folly – to automatically blame the manager every time something goes wrong.