Football: You've never been a proper manager until you've been sacked

On The Prospects for After Football
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The Independent Online
Judging by the events of the past fortnight you could use the old joke about London buses to describe managers getting the sack: there hadn't been one for ages, but now several have come along at once.

Just when it seemed conceivable that chairmen had decided to invest that precious commodity called faith in their managers, in the space of 13 days Micky Adams, Brian Horton and Jan Molby went the way of Kerry Dixon and Mervyn Day and joined this season's sack race.

Of course, Adams is already back in management, filling Molby's sizeable hot seat at Swansea City before it had time to grow cold. So, early October, and the managerial merry-go-round is already in full swing.

But it is encouraging to remember that by this time last year twice as many managers had been handed their P45s, and they included some big fish, namely Bruce Rioch at Arsenal and Howard Wilkinson at Leeds.

So far this season, the Premiership managerial roll call remains intact, although some managers appear to be on decidedly shaky ground. Most bookies are no longer taking bets on the odds-on favourite for the chop, but the fact that Ladbrokes are quoting Spurs at 250-1 for the Premiership tells its own story. There is a certain former Spurs manager up at Hillsborough who must be looking over his shoulder, too.

Of course, should Gerry Francis decide (or Alan Sugar decide for him) that tending his pigeons is preferable to trying to salvage Spurs' season, the fans' choice as his successor would not be available, as he is gainfully employed elsewhere managing England.

Most managers accept that being sacked is part of the job. Wilkinson maintains that "there are only two kinds of managers: those who've been sacked, and those who will be sacked", while Brian Horton, who was booted out of Huddersfield on Monday, claims that "you've never really been a manager until you've been sacked". By that token Horton is well and truly a manager, having previously been given a golden handshake by Manchester City.

Some, like Horton, are further ahead in the sack race than most. The message on Barry Fry's answerphone after he had been fired by Birmingham in 1996 said: "Kirstine's out, and I'm down the Job Centre as usual looking for employment."

Being the ebullient character he is, Fry always seems to bounce back. Others - like Danny Bergara, who got an exceedingly raw deal when he was sacked by Stockport in 1995 - find it harder to recover from an event that caps what is already a highly stressful job. Even Alex Ferguson admitted that if he had known 10 years ago what the Manchester United job entailed, he would not have taken it.

Yet managers have nothing to help them deal with the stresses of a job which John Barnwell, chief executive of the League Managers' Association, claims is "no longer sustainable in its current form: as all things to all people".

With this in mind the LMA, the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association, with input from the academics at Loughborough University, are proposing a number of courses aimed at preparing managers for modern management more thoroughly by teaching them time and people management, and - crucially - PR skills. The idea, says Barnwell, is to "redefine the manager's role so that, among other things, he stays in the job longer and has a better lifestyle."

Of course, football being the insular profession it is, there are limited options open to those who are out of work, permanently or otherwise. Few try their hand at anything other than improving their golf handicaps, fishing, selling insurance, running sports shops or pubs, writing revealing (or not-so-revealing) autobiographies or even, in George Graham's case, tending their roses.

And while there is quite a cottage industry developing among managers who become overnight experts in punditry, few are likely to branch out quite as bravely as Bergara is planning to do.

The Uruguayan describes himself as having "fallen out of love with football" after his Stockport debacle, so he is taking a major step sideways and hoping to set up shop as a freelance photojournalist after completing a course in November. However, his subject will - of course - be football. "It's what I know," he says, "and I can ask leading questions because I have the leading answers; after all, I've been in the game 40 years."

Bergara's example is a unique one. The LMA more usually helps jobless managers find something "to keep the rust off", as Barnwell puts it. Most tend to end up in associated roles as chief scouts or youth development officers, which Keith Burkinshaw - who to all intents and purposes jumped before he was pushed out at Spurs in 1984 and is now director of football at Aberdeen - politely describes as "pottering about in something less pressurised".

Which is surely what Graeme Souness is now doing at Torino. Sacked - sorry, moved sideways - after four months as manager, Souness has apparently taken up the role of, er, strategic adviser to the Serie B club. Your guess is as good as mine.