Thursday, 27 March 2014

Managing expectations

As you may know, I love watching football - and I support my team with the ferocity of a mother lioness defending her cubs from a double-pronged attack by blood-sucking martian aliens and wildlife photographers.  But I find the world of football management very intriguing indeed.

In the world of football, good managers are hot property.  In a highly competitive, results-driven industry, managers don't often get much time to prove themselves - they either deliver results straight away, or they're out of a job.  Of course, the high levels of expectation on top football managers come with big rewards - but the punishment for failures (or, perceived failures) can be even greater.

The growing trend of impatience - despite the evidence that knee-jerk sackings generally don't improve football clubs' fortunes - with under performing managers, on the part of both club owners and ordinary fans, is a concern.  But to what extent are a manager's true talents masked by the players he has available to him?

In the wake of José Mourinho's return to Chelsea this season, and Chelsea's subsequent success in both the Premier League (of which they are currently top) and the Champions' League (in which they are through to the Quarter-Finals), people are quick to point to Mourinho's management as reason for this.  There is no doubt that he is a fine manager, who is indeed very good at his job - but Chelsea weren't exactly a bad team before Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge either!

Pep Guardiola spent four years managing Barcelona, during which time he won fourteen major trophies - a truly remarkable record.  After a year's sabbatical, he then took over at reigning German Champions Bayern Munich, and has retained their Bundesliga title in his first season with them.  He is still on course to make this Bayern's second treble-winning season in a row.

No one can argue with the facts.  When you look at the careers of managers like Mourinho and Guardiola - the clubs they have managed, and the competitions they have won - it is impossible to escape the conclusion that they are some of the top men in their field.  But there is an argument to say that, when you get to choose who you work with, and you go from elite club to elite club, walking into a dressing room already packed with world-class players and backed by an ambitious club owner with a vision and a bank balance to match it, you'll always have at least some success.

I don't want to say "anyone could do it" (that is an especially crass argument when it works the other way, and is just as much so in this context) - but when you walk into a job managing a confident, dominant team who are the current Champions of Europe (as Guardiola did at Bayern Munich), how much worse can you do?

I don't especially have a point to make here - I'm just musing.  But I do think this is a very interesting topic.  And I do think it would be enthralling to see just how much difference a Guardiola or a Mourinho could make at a lower-mid-table Premier League team; a West Brom, or a Crystal Palace, or (please, God!) a Norwich City.  Would those teams' results improve?  Undoubtedly.  Would the same squad suddenly by vying for a Champions' League place?  I'm not so sure.

Similarly, if (for example) Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce were to take over at Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid, or Paris St. Germain next season, what effect would that have?  The star players at those most illustrious of European football clubs would still be highly-gifted, world-class footballers.  Would those teams lose some of their flare and dominance?  Quite possibly.  Would they suddenly be fighting relegation battles and being knocked out in the early stages of domestic cup competitions?  Probably not.

Frankly, although that would be a brilliant experiment to watch, it's never going to happen - for obvious reasons!

What we can say for certain, though, is that quality attracts quality.  That the best managers and the best players so often end up working together at the best and most famous clubs in Europe may seem serendipitous for them, but that doesn't happen by accident.

1 comment:

Jeff Scott said...

I like the way this content is saying and while reading this story it looks like we have a conversation. The best manager is greatly suited for the best players.

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