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Thursday, 24 May 2012

They'll Do What They Want


What better way to prepare for a return to the blogging arena by opening with a piece written by someone else? No better way, that's what. Particularly when said piece includes two of our favourite things: made-up quotes and a jibe at Adam Bushby's physical attractiveness. Here's the brilliant Dan Forman (go follow):

As I write, I don't know if Roberto Di Matteo is still Chelsea manager or will be at the start of next season. But I am pretty sure of one thing: If Arjen Robben had kept his composure and Chelsea had lost the Champions League final he wouldn't be.

I'm also pretty sure Kenny Dalglish would now be finalising his summer transfer plans (perhaps bringing in Grant Holt, Gabby Agbonlahor and Lee Cattermole for a combined £45m) rather than his retirement plans had Liverpool won the FA Cup.

I'd also Eden Hazard a guess that Harry Redknapp would currently be setting the England players at ease with a few rounds of golf at La Manga and a pre-Belgium team-bonding bender at the nineteenth hole ("all a bit of 'armless fun, Brian, it's important for the boys to unwind at the end of the season. Words between JT and Rio? No, no, they're top mates, I dunno where you've had that from. They're triffic professionals") had Fabio Capello resigned a year before he did, while Spurs were still riding the crest of a European wave and Roy Hodgson still recovering his reputation after Anfield; or even if the FA had decided to make an immediate appointment when Capello did go, with Tottenham still sitting in the Champions League places and West Brom having won just one of their previous seven league fixtures.

I could go on but I guess you probably get my point: Football chairmen are fickle. Who knew?

Yet I think there a couple of further points worth exploring beyond that. One is that even billionaire oligarch owners remain swayed by fan sentiment, perhaps more so than their bloody-minded, local-boy-made-good forebears.

David Conn's excellent piece on Man City in Saturday's Guardian reminded me of Peter Swales, the archetypal club chairman who didn't give a toss what fans thought, as evidenced by his sacking of the popular Tony Book. Contrast that with Roman Abramovich's apparent reluctance to buck a sentimental fan/media consensus that you 'can't sack a manager who has just won the Champions League' (for evidence of this see the attempt of every interviewer to put these words or their equivalent into the mouths of every Chelsea player on Saturday night) despite his obvious belief that there are far better candidates available for the long-term job of rebuilding an ageing squad, overhauling a playing style and rooting out the cancerous cabal at the heart of the dressing room.

Well, actually, you can sack a manager who has just won the Champions League, especially if you are the second richest man in the country and use a club as your personal plaything. You can do whatever you like. Does anyone now think it would have been right to retain Avram Grant (since relegated twice) had John Terry not slipped up in Moscow in 2008 and Chelsea had won the European Cup that year? But that's what Abramovich would have been under pressure to do.

Similarly, Liverpool's new American owners obviously learned a lot about how not to handle the club's voluble and volatile fans from watching the old American owners. That fear of the fans was what led them to appoint Dalglish in the first place against what appeared to be their better judgement and what would have kept him in post had he secured a cup double, even though they clearly had their concerns about an alarming lack of progress in the league. Contrast that with the unceremonial departure of Brian Clough from Derby at the hands of Sam Longson a little over a year after he had won the league. I'm not quite sure why this is, but I do think it's weird.

Another, albeit related, point is that for all the talk of metrics, stats, data and analysis in football these days, media pressure, sentiment, dressing rooms and a sense of a face not fitting still play a much larger role in managerial appointments.

Redknapp may or may not have been the best man for England (a subject on which I have had my say before, he may have been cleared of all wrongdoing in the courts, but by not even offering him an interview the FA showed quite clearly that they just didn't fancy him for the job. Burnley were also widely mocked for conducting a metrics-based search for a manager to replace Owen Coyle and not just because the computer came up with Brian Laws. There was a jeering sense of hilarity that a club was using science and not the usual suspects to populate its shortlist.

We've all read Moneyball, from Brad Pitt to Adam Bushby and all medium-looking men in between - John W Henry is even friends with Billy Beane - but football clubs still seem reluctant to act on their findings. And while football will always be harder to quantify than baseball, football management is perhaps one area where it is not. League points, divided by money spent on transfers and wages is a pretty simple formula. David Moyes, though, is one consistently overachieving manager who won't be added to Liverpool's very longlist.

And so it continues: major international businessmen are prepared to entrust the future success of their organisations on the back of a simple twist of fate, whether it be a Didier Drogba or Lionel Messi penalty that suddenly took Di Matteo from unemployable to undroppable; an Andy Carroll was it or wasn't it over the line?; or a dodgy lasange that cost Tottenham a Champions League place and ultimately Martin Jol his job.

Major international businessmen not being quite as smart as they like us to believe? Michael Lewis has a good book on that too.

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