The Management Game

This season more than any before has been marked by the importance of the manager.

Whether at the top or the bottom of the Premier League, clubs have staked triumph and failure on the fate of the man they put in charge.  Whether a head coach or the traditional manager, the main deal has remained how well they do int he core measure of an effective manager – results.

The fluctuations in a manager’s fortunes is probably well seen in the performance of Sam Allardyce at West Ham United. With a summer transfer window that placed a large number of eggs in the Andy Carroll basket, it was evidently disappointing when the target man spent a large part of the season injured. In that time Allardyce’s team beat Spurs at White Hart Lane and in his humble manner hailed his accomplishment bemoaning the fact that if he were an Italian he’d be lauded.

There then followed a tricky spell where his team struggled to win a match and as the winter transfer window approached there was serious talk of replacing him as manager.  He has never been flavour of the month with a number of Hammers and they were eager to see the owners pull the plug. To their credit, Gold and Sullivan stuck to their guns and at the turn of the year, the fortune of the Hammers improved. The club eased itself away from genuine relegation trouble, without ever looking like they could seriously do more than that.

Hooray for the manager? Or boo for messing up the opportunity to really progress as a side in a division with a number of mediocre teams?

Either way, attention isn’t so much focussed on the players.  Whenever they’re mentioned, it’s usually with regard to who purchased them – the Director of Football, the chief executive, the transfer committee, the club owner or in some cases even the manager himself! After that the issue is with the personnel and the manager’s ability to motivate, shape and release his players to play well enough to get the results.

Common excuses are brought up to cover for failings. Injuries, poor transfer windows, interference from above, stroppy players that just don’t want to play – a range of things that fans swallow with varying degrees of ease.  Yet what makes the difference between good managers and the rest is the ability to negotiate these pitfalls and still emerge with that key commodity – results.

It makes Arsene Wenger’s continued presence as manager of Arsenal one of the amazing stories of management history in the Premier League.  His defenders have pointed to the issues surrounding the move to the Emirates and his financial limitations.  Yet seriously, how can a club of Arsenal’s stature really be satisfied with year after year of flattering to deceive? Champions League qualification – the mark of a great manager? Seriously?

That certainly works in a business model, but in the larger scale of success, memories what truly makes a great manager, Wenger’s record in the last nine years has not only tarnished his achievements in the first half of his time in the country, it’s also made a mockery of the concept of success in the first place.  It really is sad seeing apologists acclaiming the style of football and how pretty it is with a consistent record of what Mourinho rightly described as a specialist in failure.

The prevailing source of comfort for the longsuffering Arsenal fan is that at least they are not a Spurs fan. The problem at White Hart Lane brings the opposite problem of their North London rivals. Where the Gunners have arguably stuck with the same man for too long, Spurs never seem capable of giving a man enough of a chance. This season was typical of that inability to see a project through. Villas-Boas was promised reinforcements to help with the departure of Bale. A number of players were brought into the club, but there was a question of who brought them and the answer appeared to be not him.

Despite never being too far from the top four, because the expectation was for them to challenge for the title, huge losses to Liverpool and City were unacceptable.  No patience with model one – scrap it and virtually revert to a previous model in Tim Sherwood. There was nothing in what Timothy did to suggest he was the answer to the problem, so what’s the answer according to some – give the young manager more time.  He’s obviously helped that with a pat on his own back that he’s capable and sounding off that he is already making plans and players are playing for their future. Seriously, though, who is going to be desperate to play for Timothy? Who sees Spurs progressing when there are other teams in a similar position who appear to be doing a lot better?

That team among other teams is Everton.

Comparing and contrasting the fortunes of Moyes at United and Martinez at Everton is fascinating.  Plenty of people have suggested poor Moyes had it tough going to United taking over the great Ferguson with a squad that was patently not as good as their Premier League win suggested. Hold on though – they still did win the league. They won it, and they won it by a considerable distance.  These players were not dreadful.

Indeed, why would Moyes leave Everton to go to Manchester United? Surely there’s got to be something about preferring to work with De Gea than Howard.  Surely it was about seeing in Vidic as better than Jagielka.  There must have been something about a strike force of Van Persie and Rooney that would have been preferably to whatever Everton has for a strike force.

It’s surely not rocket science is it – who has the better squad? Manchester United. Easily.  So how on earth can you go to that team and fail so miserably, whilst your successor in the previous club not just maintained but improved the standard you left behind.  To the point that the old club finishes higher than the new club who happen to be the biggest in the country and the Premier League champions.

Everton play better football than they did last season.  Everton play more effective football than Manchester United.  Without the same financial clout and without anything like the same quality in players and strength in depth as Manchester United.


C. L. J. Dryden


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