Football: Masters of the thankless task

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The Independent Online
THEY say that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper. With events that have happened in the past week you may need to be mad or at least illogical to be a manager. In a team event where everybody is supposed to be pulling in the same direction, some managers have been left exposed and isolated this week and wondering who their friends are.

Take Kevin Keegan. Apparently sabotaged from within. A team player par excellence, he was angered when one of his gifted charges, Lee Clark, chose to sulk in the dressing-room rather than support his team-mates during the closing stages of the match at Southampton. Keegan's team spirit was offended and he was rightly applauded for his public display of retribution.

The response to his actions was not the one he expected. Within 48 hours his leading light, the player upon whom he had heaped bucketfuls of praise, Andy Cole, responded by having a serious case of the homesickness blues. So severe that he had to miss an important cup tie.

Just imagine Keegan's feelings. He had invested a great deal of faith in two players and they failed to live up to even moderate expectations. The people of Newcastle must also be devastated to hear that their newest hero is not comfortable in their presence and would prefer to go home. Understandable if he had failed, but unforgiveable with the adulation his success has brought.

What can Keegan do? The maximum fine for a player of two weeks' wages is meaningless, given the earnings of top players. Selling one or both is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Backing down would mean him losing respect and his decisions would be made for him in future confrontations. Without doubt this is a stiff test for Keegan's man management abilities and prospective England manager- watchers look on with interest as to what course he takes.

If player problems are common enough for managers, though not usually so public, boardroom intrigue is becoming an increasingly regular visitor to our back pages. Having offered to resign myself once in a toilet, I was quite tickled to read of Bobby Gould's resignation in the same office last week. It always seems to be the most appropriate place to do such work. Although the reasons for his resignation have not been listed by Gould, pressure from the board to sell players has been heavily intimated.

Howard Wilkinson had to sell David Batty because of pressure from the chairman and his board and, at the time of writing, has not threatened to go. It is ironic that an actual pressure sale had no effect on the Yorkshire dole queues whereas just the threat of a sale forced another manager to go. It must speak volumes about the Yorkshireman's respect for 'brass'.

The final nail in the managerial coffin this week befell Ian Branfoot. In a position where he can ill afford to lose his best player, and on the heels of a television victory against Newcastle, he decided to sell Tim Flowers. He made the decision because he was frightened his club would lose a lot of money should they be forced to go to a transfer tribunal in the summer. The deal was acceptable as he was receiving a talented young goalkeeper plus cash from Liverpool for his player. A transfer was finalised and everyone was reasonably happy. Until Jerome Anderson, Flowers' agent, informed all parties that a move to Liverpool was not in the player's interest. Everyone assumes that the presence of Blackburn looming large was not a factor in the decision]

I long for the day when there is a transfer embargo during the season so that the rich kids cannot buy all the sweets and good managers will not be subject to the transfer intrigue that is so unsettling to players and supporters. Surely common sense will prevail soon on this issue.

So in one week the enemies from within have all been taking bites at managers. Players, directors and agents have proved that a manager cannot trust anybody and, in many cases, does not even make the managerial decisions he is paid for. So who would want to be a manager? People like me who are too old to be a player, too poor to be a director and too much in love with the game to be an agent.

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