This season has been a strange one in many ways, but the manager turnover has been one of the things that has surprised me the most. While the number of managerial positions that have been changed is not necessarily unusual, it is the effect that the changes have had that have surprised me. While sometimes a new manager coming in can have an effect on the team’s fortunes, of course, that’s the idea, I think few chairmen would hope that the change would be as drastic as we have seen a few times this season.
Newcastle, Tottenham, Sunderland and now Blackburn have all reaped instant reward for dismissing the man in charge. The difference has really been incredible – teams that have looked completely out of sorts and short of confidence suddenly come to life and start to look really capable of winning games with ease and confidence. Spurs were the laughing stock of the nation under Juande Ramos, but once he made way for Redknapp, they have looked a different side altogether and look set, on current form, to make a reasonable challenge for a European spot.
Sunderland are the same. Under Roy Keane they had become hopeless, toothless in attack and always vulnerable in defence, they were in free fall down the Premier League table, things looked grim for Roy Keane’s men. But once the Irishman departed, and Sbragia took the reigns temporarily, they have taken six points and eight goals from their two fixtures, looking an entirely different prospect.
The turnaround at Newcastle has been rather slower in comparison, but still quite drastic in comparison to other occasions when managers have been chopped and changed. Joe Kinnear came in after Keegan’s sudden departure as the Geordie club was dropped into instability as the chairmen was criticised and declared his intention to sell up and leave. Things looked grim and the devout fans were beginning to get very worried about their prospects for the season. However, fiery Kinnear came in and injected some much needed grit into the team. They have got organised and sured themselves up at home especially. Now he seems to be getting them set up to play away as well and I think only the most cynical of Newcastle fans will now be expecting a relegation battle.
And of course, this week saw Sam Allardyce replace a much maligned Paul Ince at Blackburn, with immediate results as they took Stoke apart 3-0 at home. While Stoke are not the best side in the league by a long way, they are a well organised and tough side that will always pose a threat with their well documented long throw tactics. But a sterling Rovers performance completely neutralised that threat, and their previously toothless attack looked a different prospect as they knocked in three goals with no reply.
So what has prompted these drastic turnarounds for teams that looked completely lost before the dismissal of the manager? Some would argue that it is simply the shrewd appointments of replacements that has turned around their fortunes, but I don’t think that is entirely the case. Take nothing away from Redknapp, Kinnear and Allardyce as well as the clearly able stand-in Sbragia. They are all good managers who clearly know how to organise and motivate a team. But none of them are really great tactical managers, and haven’t really made big changes. They are still the same teams, with the same players that are now picking up very different results.
Instead, I think that what we are seeing is a drsatic increase in the ‘player power’ of the Premier League. Often in recent seasons have we heard this expression used, especially in conjunction with the England national side, and the so called superstars who make it up. But there is no doubt that the influence of the players all over the country is increasing rapidly. The wages that they are able to demand these days are just one indication of this trend, as well as the way players can hold a club to ransom, or play them off against others to get the best deal for themselves.
That is all very well though – if the club owners are willing and able to pay the money then it is only natural that they will take it. But it seems to me that the players may be starting to gain an influence over the power of the manager himself, and if that is the case, it is worrying indeed. I say this because it seems to me that what has happened at the clubs I have mentioned, is rather than the manager failing, the players themselves have simply stopped playing.
Whether it is a conscious thing or not, it seems clear that at a certain point, the players have lost their willingness to play for their manager. Whether because they are unhappy with training schedules or team tactics or even dietary requirements I don’t know, but I think it is unacceptable. While the players may not feel that the situation at the club is ideal, that does not give them license to not perform when it counts. If they are unhappy with the way things are at a club, they should consult the manager or chairmen about it to achieve constructive improvements. The pitch is not the right place to show their displeasure, because the fans will be the real losers in that case.
The fact is too, that when the players are payed so much and seem to have such power in their clubs, that ultimately, the buck should stop with them. Yes, the manager has a job to do, to organise and motivate the team, but really, the players on the pitch all have the talent to perform at this level, and if they are not playing well, they should look at themselves first of all. Managers aren’t entirely blameless certainly, if the squad is unsettled they should realise that things need to change, but these things need to be cooperatively worked on between the players, manager and club staff.
Ultimately, I think clubs need to think hard about how they maintain a healthy working environment for both the players and the management, because if it does get to the point that the clubs discussed above have reached, then it is surely as clear from the inside as from the outside that something is wrong. The fans will suffer because the performances and results on the pitch are suffering, and while often fans will jump to the conclusion that managers need to be sacked (helped of course, by these recent turnarounds), I don’t think that is actually the healthiest thing to do.
Stability is ultimately the key for clubs to achieve long term success. If you look at the clubs I have talked about above, all of the managers who lost their jobs hadn’t had them for long in the first place. When a new manager is installed at a club, O think one of the first things they need to address is to get the atmosphere and environment around the playing staff right. While of course, a manager needs to impose his tactical ideas and other plans on the team, it is important that he gets the players onside first, because if they are not happy with things, it is he who will ultimately suffer, due to the enormous power that the players now hold over their manager and the club as a whole.
I look at my club Everton as a club that have gone about this sort of thing the right way. When Moyes came in six years ago, we were perennial strugglers and the atmosphere around the club was very negative. But Moyes came in, steadied the ship, worked with the players and assembled a squad that were well bonded and united with the aim to improve the club. It was not all plain sailing, with a couple of yo-yop seasons, but because Moyes was a good man-manager for the players and they were happy playing for him, there was no talk of his leaving. While results on the pitch may not have been the best, it was clear that the players were playing for him and that progress was being made, and ultimately, that initial ground work and patience has paid off. The squad chemistry at Everton is up there with the best in the league with a close knit bunch of lads who play for their boss, their shirt, and their fans.
So while the fans of Tottenham, Sunderland, Newcastle and perhaps now Blackburn will not complain about the result of their managerial merry-go-round this season, they would do well to hope that they don’t see anymore changes in the near future. If they can get their teams playing in tandem with the manager, rather than sulking and almost playing against him, then with time the club as a whole will begin to move in the right direction. But with player power still very much on the rise and these managerial switches being hailed as masterstrokes, other managers could rightly fear their jobs if results start to go against them this year. Fans can only hope that the powers that be at their clubs have the good sense to judge the managers not simply on the results, but on the overall health of the squad’s character and chemistry.