"In the modern game I don't think Alex Ferguson would have lasted the three years he did before winning a trophy at Manchester United." This sentiment, expressed yesterday by Gerry Francis, has become the mantra for departing managers everywhere but that does not make it any less relevant.
In late 1989, early in the fourth year of Ferguson's reign, Manchester United were 15th in the table and under intense pressure from fans and press to change the manager. Ferguson survived to prosper but it is hard to imagine he would do so now. Managers at the big Premiership clubs face more stresses than ever. The hype is massive and it is not only fans who want success overnight. Chairmen and players also want to be associated with success and, at clubs like Spurs and Manchester United, there are the added pressures of a stock market listing. The job has also expanded post-Bosman, with managers needing to be aware of players world-wide.
"There is no football manager I know that cannot take the job home," Francis said yesterday. "It is a 24-hour-a-day job. You are always doing something, you are on the phone or something's happening. You cannot get it out of your head."
Alan Sugar, the Tottenham chairman, said the pressure starts in the media in July "before we even kick a ball.
"It affects players and has brought Gerry's resignation. He believes physically and technically it is not possible [to change things] because of the snowball effect. If he put a mask on and called himself Francisco Geraldo and came back here tomorrow I can assure you things would turn around immediately. This is a matter of psychology, of pressure, not of skills."
Francis, citing poor results and newspaper speculation as a cause of that pressure, added: "I don't have to play football so I'm not playing under pressure, but if I were to leave it would relieve it."
Francis decided to resign after the home defeat by Leeds on 1 November. A section of the crowd called for his departure after the game, during which Spurs were abject, and his soul-searching in the post-match press conference hinted at his inner turmoil. Sugar talked him out of resigning then but, after a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool the following week, Francis insisted. The subsequent delay was intended to ensure a smooth succession which would have been achieved had it not been for leaks at the Swiss end.
Both intimated that supporters' pressure also influenced events, notably the signing of David Ginola. "We needed somebody who would go past players," Francis said. "That's Spurs. When we were winning a lot of games 1-0 a couple of seasons ago, getting in the top three, people were complaining there wasn't a lot of flair. I knew tracking back and defending wasn't David's greatest strength but as a manager you think you can change players."
Sugar added of Francis: "Pressure was being brought to bear by people who wanted entertainment - if he'd stuck to his principles we would not be here [in the valedictory press conference] today."
Francis' bleak recent mood matches Ferguson's in late 1989. "I turned into something of a hermit... I wouldn't go out anywhere... I felt some sort of traitor to the United support," he later wrote. But he added: "I didn't let it influence my decisions when picking the team, no matter what the outside pressures."
Ferguson, 11 years at Old Trafford, and Joe Kinnear nearly six years at Wimbledon, are the only Premiership managers to have held their post for four years. Thirteen of the 20 have been in the job less than two.
In business, such a management turnover would be inconceivable so one wonders why chairmen, who are usually businessmen, sanction it in football. They are, at least, coming to recognize that the job is too big to be run the old way. Christian Gross, Francis' successor, will surely follow the guidelines established by Ruud Gullit and Arsene Wenger and concentrate on coaching and identifying new players.
Gross comes well recommended, but has a considerable task on his hands. "[My reign] is not a success," Francis concluded, "because I have not won anything. I have gone closer than one or two people but that is not good enough. It isn't easy. It is 36 years since they won the title here and they have had some great players, had some great managers and spent a lot of money."Reuse content