The Last Word: Hire and fire's new maxim – desperation
Arsenal's Herbert Chapman wouldn't have stood a chance on today's managerial merry-go-round
Sunday 07 April 2013
Arsenal Football Club is open to receive applications for the position of TEAM MANAGER. He must be experienced and possess the highest qualifications for the post, both as to ability and personal character. Gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exorbitant transfer fees need not apply.
The advertisement, placed on page eight of the Athletic News on Monday 11 May 1925, attracted the Huddersfield Town manager, Herbert Chapman. He doubled his money to £2,000 a year, and promptly turned a blind eye to illegal payments which allowed him to sign Charles Buchan, his captain and pivotal player.
Sir Henry Norris, Arsenal's autocratic chairman, was banned for that inelegant indiscretion. Despite the strictures of the job description, Chapman broke the British transfer record for David Jack. He gave a waiter £2 to intoxicate the Bolton directors during negotiations, so he was able to beat them down from £13,000 to £10,890. Done up like a kipper, to use Harry Redknapp's immortal phrase.
Chapman's premature death from pneumonia, aged 55, in 1934 embellished his legend. Having led Arsenal to two League championships and an FA Cup, he did not live to see his team amass four titles in five years, but his visionary application of dietary science, physical fitness and tactical innovation endures. His bronze bust was the focal point of the marble entrance hall at Highbury, and a new statue stands, longingly, outside the Emirates.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. A winning manager writes his own history. He is indulged, excused, lionised. He develops tight professional networks which demand discretion, pragmatism and unconditional loyalty. Victory is the ultimate PR policy.
Paolo Di Canio could survive exposure as Shirley, a cross-dressing cocktail waitress in the Bigg Market, if he wins at Chelsea today and drags Newcastle into the relegation scuffle by winning the Tyne-Wear derby next weekend. In truth, his peers doubt this is possible. His appointment has fractured the fraternity.
This has nothing to do with distaste for Di Canio's political views, or alarm at Sunderland's inconceivable naïvety. In the words of one former Premier League manager, who admits he is on "autopilot" waiting for another opportunity, at any level in the game: "Just tell me what he has done?"
Desperation is reaching epidemic levels. Agents are weaving increasingly absurd tales as they seek to link their clients to vacancies. Certain managers are becoming notorious for ensuring they are linked with jobs they have no chance of securing. Vulture Row, seats at games involving troubled clubs that are occupied by unemployed managers, is full to overflowing.
There is a compensation culture because of the ephemeral nature of the role. The majority of managers are not trusted to manage. They are babysitters, like Roberto Di Matteo, human shields, like Rafa Benitez, or symbols of desperation, like Di Canio.
In a sane world, the League Managers' Association would act as a clearing house and prevent headhunting firms pitching for business, as they have done during the black comedy of regime change at Sunderland. That will never happen, because of tribal loyalties and football's nod and a wink culture.
Tellingly, for a profession which demands respect, such respect is not reciprocal. Nigel Adkins's poignantly timed plea for managers not to poach colleagues' jobs will be subtly, but studiously, ignored. The profession moves to the rhythm of boom and bust.
A minority are permitted to progress sensibly and incrementally: David Moyes, at Everton; Kenny Jackett, at FA Cup semi-finalists Millwall; and Paul Tisdale at League Two promotion candidates Exeter City.
But the rest is froth and nonsense. Chapman wouldn't have survived the media firestorm of a payments scandal in the modern game, where Chelsea supporters wear Jose Mourinho masks and chairmen such as Southampton's Nicola Cortese bristle with misplaced machismo.
Football clubs gets the leadership they deserve.
Goodbye Draper – new balls please
Coventry is self-pity city this weekend. The football club are imploding and the Ricoh Arena, the cause of most of their problems, is staging the bleak ritual of a British Davis Cup tie, this time against Russia.
The script of expensive underachievement is tiresomely familiar. The principal characters, defeatist and self-absorbed, are caricatures of professional athletes.
Only the names change. James Ward blew a two-set lead in the grand style. Dan Evans was sufficiently emboldened by dejection to concede he neither trained, nor cared, enough to fulfil his natural talent.
Underlying problems endure. There is no unity, strategy or sense of accountability. Presiding over this mess is Roger Draper, who has never deigned to offer a cogent explanation as to why he should earn £640,000 a year as chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association.
He steps down in September, which is approximately five years too late and begs the question of why he was allowed to build an empire which employs 315 and has swallowed nearly £500 million since he took over in 2006. On his watch, tennis has regressed to the point where it eclipses football as the worst-run sport in Britain. He will not be missed.
Olympic cycling champion Marianne Vos was kissed by a podium boy when she won the Ronde van Drenthe race in the Netherlands. It was one small step for man, one giant leap for womankind. Perhaps now we can be grown-up and question the point of motorsport pit babes, cycling race queens and boxing bimbettes.
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