Monday, December 10, 2007

When football managers were given time

I don't know about you, but for me the highlight of last night's BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards was the very moving acceptance speech given by Sir Bobby Robson (above) on being presented with his Lifetime Achievement Award. Robson has been battling cancer and got a tremendous reception from the audience.

While Robson is quite rightly regarded as one of England's greatest managers, it's interesting to consider what would have happened had he been born twenty years later. Robson was appointed England manager in 1982 and inherited a good team which had gone close in that summer's World Cup. Robson's England failed however to qualify for the 1984 European Championships. When Steve McClaren, who inherited a team that
had performed badly at the preceding World Cup failed to qualify for Euro 2008 he was summarily dismissed. But a quarter of a century ago things were done rather differently.

Robson was given more time and repayed the confidence shown in him by guiding England to the World Cup quarter-Finals in 1986 (when only the 'Hand of God' aka Diego Maradona, denied them a semi-final place) and the semi-finals in 1990, where they lost in a penalty shoot out to West Germany. Robson took England nearer to World Cup glory than any manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, yet if he had been managing the national side twenty years later, he would probabby have been sacked after just two years in charge.

If you still have your doubts about the need to give football managers more time, just think of the man who presented Robson with his award last night. Sir Alex Ferguson won nothing in his first three years at Old Trafford, in fact three years after being appointed he had taken Manchester United into a relegation battle. And even after United won the FA Cup in 1990, it was still another three years before Ferguson landed the League title- a full six and a half years after taking charge. Would Ferguson have been allowed so much time today? Of course not. He'd probably have been sacked in the autumn of 1989, if not earlier.

It's strange to reflect though that while 'hire and fire' has become the order of the day among football managers, there's one group of people in Britain whose jobs are far more than secure than twenty-five years ago. Our political elite can take us into illegal, catastrophic wars, lose our bank details in the post and make all manner of cock-ups. Yet very few get sacked, let alone resign. I'd rather live in a country which showed a bit more patience towards its football managers and a bit less patience towards its politicians.

How about you?


Douglas said...

I'm curious about something. The UK football coaches seem to have no communication with the players while the game is in progress.

There once was a time when the quarterback of an American football team not only played the game, but called each play as well. Then coaches started using "messenger players," substitutions with each play called by the coach. Now we have offensive and defensive coordinators, who are watching the game from a lofty perch, and calling plays, which get communicated by the means described above.

Is it true that UK football has less intervention from parties other than the players than any American sport?

Did the recent NFL game in London capture much interest?

Neil Clark said...

Hi Douglas,

Uk football coaches have been known to shout from the touchline and make various gestures like pointing to their watch and to their heads.

"is it true that UK football has less intervention from parties other than the players in any Amercian sport".

Probably, but perhaps someone who has a greater knowledge of US sports than I do could confirm.

I think the NFL game was well attended, but the main attention it seems to have raised was when people blamed the poor state of the Wembley pitch for the Croatia game on the NFL match.

All best,