Friday, 7 January 2011

Appraising the Scapegoats

Yesterday Richard Bevan, Chief Executive of the League Managers Association called for the scapegoating of football managers to stop. He called for appraisals of manager performance where "the strengths and weaknesses of how the football-side of the club is performing might be assessed against realistic expectations and previously, mutually agreed goals.

Richard Bevan c Mirror

"In any other sector, there is a recognition that the highest performing organizations are those who build winning organizational culture - shared beliefs, goals and ways of behaving - coupled with a long-term vision." Fair enough, so what would this mean for some of those Bevan represents?

When Roy Hodgson joined Liverpool in the summer, he was employed by different owners, Gillet and Hicks and a Chief Executive, Christian Purslow, who is yet to be replaced. He joined on the back of their worst season for a decade, the LMA Manager of the Year stating, “I'm here for the long haul and to do the job that needs to be done, hopefully winning trophies very quickly." So what were the expectations and objectives when he took over? Did they change with new ownership? And do any new objectives take account of the changes above him?

By stating an aim for trophies and quickly he has personally set an objective that, as things stand, he is still on to achieve. You have to assume that such statements are made in line with directors' expectations. Trophies are not won in January and Liverpool remains in both the Europa League and the FA Cup - okay so they only join the latter on Sunday! 

Hodgson's shock as objectives revealed c Mirror

With an inadequate squad and limited funds to change things, could he realistically be expected to improve on 7th and a 23 point deficit on Champions Chelsea? To be fair, at the very least, he should have been capable of maintaining the status quo. With Liverpool sitting 12th, 19 points behind Manchester United and with 9 defeats to their name (just 2 less than the number over the whole of last season), it could be said that Roy has failed, to date. Yet does he not need more time to impose his ways, to sign more of his own his own players? Neutrals and the few Liverpool fans in the Paul Konchesky Fan Club might suggest so; an increasingly vocal majority at Anfield would not. 

Carlo Ancelloti is being talked of in some quarters as at risk. Unfounded rumours swept the country yesterday that both he and Roy were heading for the exit door. The reigning champions sit 5th. 9 points off top spot, having won less than half of their games and having suffered 6 defeats - as many as they suffered in the whole of last season. On paper - Carlo is not achieving objectives, but should other factors come into play. With an ageing and injury riddled squad this season it has not been easy. Some of the more flexible squad members left in the Summer, with few replacements brought in, and youngsters, like McEachran, Sturridge and Bruma, have been blooded, probably more readily than the manager might have anticipated.

You would think that given last season and the enforced turnover within the playing squad he will be given n the chance to re-group and re-challenge. But this is football, where there is an expectation level to be maintained, firmly in the public eye.

A more cut and dried case perhaps is that of Roy Keane at Ipswich. Having splashed around £9m of Marcus Evans' cash around on players who failed to make an impact, with, since dismissed, rumours of unrest with star prospect Connor Wickham and Damien Delaney (amongst others) and a plummet down the table to 19th, 3 points above the relegation places, Keane can hardly claim to have met expectations. However, on his departure he expressed "a genuine belief that we were making progress".  Unfortunately for Roy his objectives were league based and, however nice a Carling Cup semi-final appearance is, the progress the club made was downwards.

More time to walk the dog c SkySports

At the end of the day football is a results business, unless you are an Arsenal fan and watching aesthetically pleasing football from both sides also appears to be required. (Mind you when you are paying close to a £100 per ticket, it is probably a not unreasonable request). Results = points. And we all know what points make............

Well it should be trophies, a place in the record books. That is how it would have been previously, but with significant money on offer for an improvement of just one league place in today's game the pressure for points intensifies. Bevan states that a manager's average tenure during the 2009-10 campaign was one year and four months, compared to three and a half years in 1992, yet football has changed tremendously in that time. The rewards for improving results are greater but the risks that clubs are willing to take are much smaller.

There is always someone else ready to take on the challenge and the cost of change is much less than the potential financial impact of failure. There are 79 "available" managers listed on the LMA website. I looked at the list, prior to the Blades appointing Micky Adams, and what an un-inspiring list it is. Aside from Martin O'Neill , maybe Rafa Benitez, who would you want at your club. Take a look. Why not comment your choice for your club below. I doubt we will see a great deal of variety.

However uninspiring they are, they are LMA members looking for work. If average tenures increase, then the longer these managers and others like them will be redundant. As respected journalist Gabriele Marcotti tweeted on Thursday night it is "funny how LMA worry about sacked managers more than out-of-work ones who might seize opportunity of job opening." Bevan is acting like most union officials, looking after those in jobs, but does he not owe a bit more to those who are awaiting a new opportunity, aside from giving them advice on their statements to the media following their last departure.

Football takes much more of a short-term view than other businesses, probably due to the propensity of stakeholders involved, opinions given and the media spotlight. Managers will have objectives and they will know how they are performing against those objectives. With the odd notable exception, Chris Hughton for instance, can many managers really be that surprised by the sack? Well, maybe Roy Keane. But as we know and as Louise Taylor so wonderfully states in this article in the Guardian, young Roy doesn't take constructive criticism very well.

We as fans might not like some of the changes to the game in recent years; I made my feelings known here. Richard Bevan might not like the impact it is having on its members, but in a world where so many people's jobs are at risk, where often it is nothing to do with their own personal performance, where decisions are made regardless of achievement of objectives and where they earn a wage much lower than the average manager, I'll give him an objective. Keep calm, keep quiet and carry on with your job.

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