James Lawton: Managerial sackings are a grotesque abandonment of decent values

Foreign ownership resembles nothing so much as arrivals in an alien planet

Quite some time before he became the nation's best-rewarded football broadcaster and potato crisps salesman, Gary Lineker laughed out loud when asked if he had any yearnings for one of the better upholstered managers' offices.

"Yes, for about two seconds," he said. "It's a terrible job, no security, no respect and so many who are doing it seem to be on the point of a nervous breakdown. I saw one of the strongest of them yelling and running down the touchline the other day and I thought: 'become a manager? Are you kidding?'"

Ironically enough, the agitated figure he had in mind was the future Sir Alex Ferguson, who in these days of record-breaking mayhem is uniquely fireproof.

Lineker was taking a midwinter break watching Ashes cricket in Sydney and contemplating the rest of his life after the glory days with Barcelona and Spurs and England. The manager's job has always been unyieldingly tough, of course, but nearly 20 years on Lineker's almost casual assessment of its progressive hazards has grown into front-rank prophecy.

Today, when Gary Smith of Stevenage became the latest grim statistic in the culling of 103 managers and coaches in a season, there was both dismay and outrage at the League Managers' Association and this declaration from its chief executive, Richard Bevan: "It is embarrassing for the game that all these sackings are unfair dismissals. The volatility is undermining the profession."

If only it was volatility. It isn't, of course. It is a grotesque abandonment of decent values born of an ignorance that is inevitable when you consider the backgrounds of two of the worst examples of "volatility", Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest. At Blackburn, where Michael Appleton this week became the third manager to go down this season, and at Forest, where in the re-instated Billy Davies they have their third manager since last July, the foreign ownership has resembled nothing so much as arrivals in an alien planet.

One former Championship chairman and director could hardly put it more starkly, saying: "It is questionable if the owners had ever heard the names of the towns let alone the meaning of their football clubs, before they made their investments. Their treatment of managers, the whole manner of their administration, is of course an absolute disgrace but the biggest scandal of all is that such people are allowed to take over so much of the English game."

The colonisation has taken many forms, almost all of them destructive, but the hard edge of it has come in the cavalier treatment of so many working football men. At Chelsea, the indifference to the feelings of the fans was expressed most brutally in the firing of Roberto Di Matteo six months after he won the Champions League. But Roman Abramovich's Russian compatriot Anton Zingarevich, owner of Reading, and Nicola Cortese, the Italian businessman chairman of Southampton, were no less ruthless in the brusque dismissals of local heroes Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins.

The message is quite relentless. The foreign owner comes, he sees and he snaps up his asset with only minimal knowledge, or caring, for all that feeling and tradition which has gone into the making of his or her new property.

The story of Venky's, the Indian chicken people, and the Blackburn Rovers who once were nourished by the passionate old steelman and boyhood supporter Sir Jack Walker, might serve as the supreme parable of what can happen when the most evidently fit and proper qualification for ownership of an English football club is the ability to produce the asking price.

There is another, less dramatic but in its own small way perhaps telling, story about the attitudes, and priorities, of some of the new ruling class of the English game. It is the report, which a reliable witness insists is not apocryphal, of the foreign owners of one English club occupying the front row of their directors' box while spending most of the time watching Manchester United v Real Madrid on their iPads.

How do you reverse this trend of disconnection between those who own so much of English football and the others who support it, who inherit loyalties in the cradle and have never felt so detached from the policies of those who know little and perhaps care less about the shaping of the football club? In a perfect world you have a code for ownership – and a test of it before it is empowered.

If you have authority, you examine a hundred times more vigorously the suitability of pantomime owners such as Venky's. If you are the League Managers Association you might have advised the latest Blackburn victim, Appleton, about quite what he was stepping into when he left Blackpool, who as a consequence have in Paul Ince their third manager in a year.

In the meantime – and it could be a long one – there is another extremely forlorn option. It is to accept that English football has become somebody else's increasingly unfamiliar game.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)