Mark Hughes started his reign as Manchester City manager last week by outlining plans to turn his new club into a major force in English and European football. The pertinent questions many City fans will be ask is how much time will Hughes be given to turn this vision in to a reality?
Sven Goran Eriksson was sacked by owner Thaksin Shinawatra after just one season, despite the fact he led to City to a ninth place finish last season. Having finished just four places and four points from the drop zone the season before ErikssonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arrival, surely the Swede had been a success in his first year at Eastlands? Most, including the City faithful and UK football media, would agree. But not Shinawatra. The former Thai PM expected Champions League qualification from Eriksson, an ambition not even the most overambitious of City fans could have expected last campaign.
ShinawatraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recent message to City supporters was Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthey (Manchester City fans) cannot love the club more than meÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. He wants City to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœadvance faster, must fasterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and cites that as the main reason for ErikssonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sacking. Shinawatra is currently pursuing his personal ambition of signing Ronaldinho, despite having never consulted Hughes as to whether or not he would like the Brazilian in his side. Ã¢â‚¬ËœIf they (Manchester City) want to try to challenge the top four, if they want the best players, they need people with deep pocketsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ says Shinawatra. In exchange for his deep pockets, the Thai would appear to expect deep involvement in player recruitment and selection.
In the days of Clough, Nicholson, Paisley and Revie, the very thought of club owners influencing team affairs would have been absurd. But with the arrival of Shinawatra and fellow deep-pocketed foreign owners, the goal posts have been moved in English football. The modern-day manager is increasingly forced to accept interference into their role as common place. Their job involves making less decisions, but at the same time, being under more pressure. Success is expected from managers who may not even be signing their own players or selecting their sideÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tactics.
Martin Jol experienced such frustrations during his time as Tottenham Hotspur manager. While chairman Daniel LevyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s insisted that no player was signed ever signed without JolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s consent during is reign as manager it is widely accepted that sporting director Daniel Comolli was given licence to negotiate player transfers. Jol was given little insight which players were being lined up by Comolli until those individuals were turning up to sign on the dotted line for Spurs. News of the World sports editor Paul McCarthy believes Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe whole situation (having a sporting director) at Spurs is set up to work against the managerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Certainly itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a structure few managers would feel comfortable working in. As Arsene Wenger once put it, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe day you read that a technical director is coming to Arsenal, you will know it is the day before I leaveÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
ComolliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s powers in north London were demonstrated in the appointment of Juande Ramos Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the man he told the board to hire as their new boss. Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe (Comolli) recommended Juande RamosÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ acknowledged Levy. Ramos delivered quickly, with Spurs winning the League Cup in his first season. But Comolli shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t rest easy. Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe (Comolli) will have [to take] responsibility if it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t workÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, commented Levy on RamosÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ appointment. A reminder, if one was needed, that owners are the only individuals with real power in English football.
After securing Spurs two consecutive top five finishes, Jol could have claimed to have been harshly dismissed from White Hart Lane. Avram Grant will feel the same over his exit from Chelsea. Leading the Blues to a second place Premiership finsh and the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first ever Champions League final wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough to convince billionaire Roman Abramovich that Grant was up to the job. So just days after seeing his team take Manchester United all the way to penalties in the Champions League final, Grant was issued with his P45. From Russia without love.
North of the border, Heart of Midlothian have had little heart for their managers since Russian-Lithuanian banker Vladimir Romanov became the major shareholder of the club in 2005. In RomanovÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first season at Tynecastle, new boss George Burley had guided the club to the top of the SPL, winning their first eight league matches. But just three months in the season, Burley departed with Hearts citing “irreconcilable differences” between themselves and the Scottish manager. Reports in Scotland at the time suggested Romanov signed players without BurleyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s approval.
Graham Rix, who would be the next full time manager, encountered similar problems, reportedly telling his players Romanov was picking the side and Ã¢â‚¬Å“pulling the stringsÃ¢â‚¬Â at Tynecastle. Like Burley, Rix lasted just a few months at Hearts, clearly unable to work with Romanov. Instability has been a lasting theme in the claret half of Edinburgh ever since. Hearts had three caretaker managers last season and finished a disappointing eighth place in the SPL. Current caretaker boss Steve Banks will lose his job in the next few weeks according to press reports. Given his influence on team affairs, many Hearts fans may wonder if Romanov may as well appoint himself as Banks replacement.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Vladimir Romanov has openly admitted that he has picked two or three players in the teamÃ¢â‚¬Â former Hearts manager Jim Duffy told the Guardian in 2007. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He doesn’t pick all 11,Ã¢â‚¬Â continued Duffy, Ã¢â‚¬Å“but the problem is that players who are training very well know they will never get into the team.Ã¢â‚¬Â Duffy painted a clear picture as to how modern day football clubs are run claiming owners Ã¢â‚¬Å“want more of a say in how the club is run, who plays in the team and which players are recruitedÃ¢â‚¬Â compared with 20 years ago. He cited a personal example of interference by an owner into team affairs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“While I was at Portsmouth, (Milan) Mandaric (the then Pompey owner) bought the Japanese goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi to try to open up the Asian market. The only way to do that was to sell the games to Japanese television and Mandaric was adamant he had to playÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Such pressure and influence from owners isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t something exclusive to the top clubs in British football. Liam Daish, first-team coach of Blue Square Premier League side Ebbsfleet United works for 30,000 owners, as part of the unique web-based venture, My Football Club. At the start of 2007, MyFootballClub.co.uk offered football fans chance to decide EbbsfleetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team selection, player transfers, kit design etc by paying Ã‚Â£35 a season for the privilege to vote on such matters. The scheme attracted membership from fans all over the globe, meaning Paul McCarthyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s selection as club captain is as much down to MyFC members in New York and Tokyo as those in Gravesend and Northfleet, Essex.
Ebbsfleet have experienced success since the MyFC takeover – theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve made Ã‚Â£700k profit from internet members and lifted the FA Trophy this season. But will the Essex side eventually be victims of their own success? Worries are already abound that MyFC members are losing interest in Ebbsfleet, with only 6,765 people having taken part in the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most recent vote, compared with 18,112 votes when the scheme originally started. Ultimately, the greatest fear is that their young, ambitious boss Liam Daish could be alienated working in an environment where the big decisions are taken out of his hands.
In a Telegraph feature shortly after MyFC completed the Ebbsfleet takeover, Daish revealed his concerns over the scheme. Ã¢â‚¬Å“At the end of the day IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m paid for whatever they want me to do,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ he said. Ã¢â‚¬ËœIf they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want me to pick the side, fine. But if you are asking my opinion, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be fools not to let me pick the side. You know, if I book my car in to get serviced I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go in there and tell the mechanics what to do. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be asking for things to go wrong. They should value my input and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be disappointed if they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. Very disappointedÃ¢â‚¬Â Daish could be victim to the cruellest of football sackings one day, with 30,000 people able to vote on his managerial future. Making even Jol and GrantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dismissals look mild by comparison.
From Eastlands to Ebbsfleet, Tynecastle to Tottenham, the pressure is on. Half the job of the modern day manager is figuring out where the ownerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s involvement in team affairs ends and their role begins. All the while avoiding dismissal from a position not even Champions League finalists are safe in.
By Andy Greeves for SoccerNews.com
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