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Manager in the Premiership – The Impossible Job

SoccerNews in Editorial, English Premier League 9 Jun 2008

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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 Eriksson’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.

Shinawatra’s recent message to City supporters was ‘they (Manchester City fans) cannot love the club more than me’. He wants City to ‘advance faster, must faster’ and cites that as the main reason for Eriksson’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. ‘If they (Manchester City) want to try to challenge the top four, if they want the best players, they need people with deep pockets’ 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 side’s tactics.

Martin Jol experienced such frustrations during his time as Tottenham Hotspur manager. While chairman Daniel Levy’s insisted that no player was signed ever signed without Jol’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 ‘the whole situation (having a sporting director) at Spurs is set up to work against the manager’. Certainly it’s a structure few managers would feel comfortable working in. As Arsene Wenger once put it, ‘the day you read that a technical director is coming to Arsenal, you will know it is the day before I leave’.

Comolli’s powers in north London were demonstrated in the appointment of Juande Ramos – the man he told the board to hire as their new boss. ‘He (Comolli) recommended Juande Ramos’ acknowledged Levy. Ramos delivered quickly, with Spurs winning the League Cup in his first season. But Comolli shouldn’t rest easy. ‘He (Comolli) will have [to take] responsibility if it doesn’t work’, commented Levy on Ramos’ 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 club’s first ever Champions League final wasn’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 Romanov’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 Burley’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 “pulling the strings” 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.

“Vladimir Romanov has openly admitted that he has picked two or three players in the team” former Hearts manager Jim Duffy told the Guardian in 2007. “He doesn’t pick all 11,” continued Duffy, “but the problem is that players who are training very well know they will never get into the team.” Duffy painted a clear picture as to how modern day football clubs are run claiming owners “want more of a say in how the club is run, who plays in the team and which players are recruited” compared with 20 years ago. He cited a personal example of interference by an owner into team affairs. “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 play”.

Such pressure and influence from owners isn’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 Ebbsfleet’s team selection, player transfers, kit design etc by paying £35 a season for the privilege to vote on such matters. The scheme attracted membership from fans all over the globe, meaning Paul McCarthy’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 – they’ve made £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 club’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. “At the end of the day I’m paid for whatever they want me to do,’ he said. ‘If they don’t want me to pick the side, fine. But if you are asking my opinion, they’d be fools not to let me pick the side. You know, if I book my car in to get serviced I don’t go in there and tell the mechanics what to do. You’d be asking for things to go wrong. They should value my input and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t. Very disappointed” 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 Grant’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 owner’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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SoccerNews

Soccernews.com is news blog for soccer with comprehensive coverage of all the major leagues in Europe, as well as MLS in the United States. In addition we offer breaking news for transfers and transfer rumors, ticket sales, betting tips and offers, match previews, and in-depth editorials.

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