Imagine if every Premier League manager was like Roberto Martinez. Imagine if all of our top-level gaffers were as loyal as the Principled One from Wigan Athletic. Where would the game be then?
Somewhere between the pickle and the U-bend, that's where. How would it make the most powerful men in the sport feel – you know, those owners who keep the Big Top's cash tills ticking to aid our entertainment? Their dilemma would suddenly be truly horrendous. Why, it would take all the fun out of being a dictator.
So you want to be rid of the dolt in the dugout who has had the temerity to: a) not win a trophy for a whole season; or b) lacked sufficient reputation to impress your fellow multimillionaires in the directors' box.
So what to do? Easy. Squeeze the trigger and hire a manager whose star is in the ascendancy. But wait a minute. That manager won't be enticed from his current position; by salary, transfer kitties or promises of silverware. He's staying loyal to his club, just like all the rotters are nowadays.
So where to go now? There's only one thing for it. You have to pin your faith in the present manager, invest in his long-term plan, give him the time and space to create a team who embody his footballing philosophy and wait for however longer ittakes for the success to arrive. How sensible, how boring, how thoroughlyun-football...
But then, the Abramovichs out there need not fret, need not stir on their silken sheets as their slumber is invaded by visions of a world where humans don't necessarily have their price. Because the great news for market forces is that in gafferdom personal interest is still very much top of the agenda. And the evenbetter news is that hardly any blame is apportioned.
If Martinez had decided to join Aston Villa, outside of Wigan he would not have received any criticism, regardless of whatever loyalty his chairman, Dave Whelan, had extended. It would have been his right to choose, to do the best by his family and, if by must, for his ambition. You couldn't fault the Spaniard.
Well yes, you could actually. You can't heap all this praise upon Martinez for "doing the right thing" by staying with the perceived lesser club and then, in the opposite scenario, also claim he would be "doing the right thing". That makes no sense at all. All that twisted logic achieves is to give managers carte blanche to do whatever they like. Which is exactly what they have now.
Take Mark Hughes leaving Fulham. The immediate question on his surprise resignation wasn't, "Why has he quit a club he has managed for under 11 months and took to eighth in the Premier League?" It was, "I wonder who has tapped him up – Villa, Chelsea or some other club who haven't printed off the P45 yet?"
Exactly nobody in the entire universe believed his agent when he outlined Hughes's reasons for leaving – as if his ambitions, or those of Fulham, have changed since last July – or when he pointed out how kind Hughes had been to Fulham in grant-ing them time to find a replacement. But then, his agent does happen to be Kia Joorabchian.
Until they appointed Martin Jol, Fulham fans were understandably aggrieved, remembering all Hughes had said when joining. The neutrals merely shrugged. Don't forget these were the same neutrals who were morally affronted when Manchester City sacked Poor Sparky mid-season. Perhaps they'd forgotten the time when Sparky left Poor Wales mid-qualifying campaign when Blackburn came calling. Not a whisper of dissent then. Tell me, why is a person's ambition deemed so much more precious than a club's ambition or even a country's ambition? It would be interesting to see the reaction if Hughes does pitch up at Villa Park. Probably a ho, maybe a hum.
There have been occasions when managers have been labelled Judas. Mark McGhee when he jumped from Reading to Leicester to Wolves in rapid succession, Steve Bruce when he unashamedly hopped from prettymuch everywhere to anywhere in his early days. But these, in footballing terms, were a while ago. We are at the stage now where a manager would leave his relegation-threatened club on the last day of the season for the club in 18th to a chorus of, "We completely understand".
We can thank the boardroom for all this. They are the ones who ensureddisloyalty would be a two-way street. After decade upon decade of trigger-delirious chairmanship, Darwinian laws dictated a survival gene developed to help managers understand that not only do they have to walk before pushed,they have to do so regardless of whatever broken vows are left behind. Hence the mercenaries who prowl the technical areas with their hearts on their sleeves and their agents on the blower.
Hey, the oh so inevitable cry goes, what would you do if you were offereda better job? Why should managers be any different? Fair enough, why should they? As long as they realise they have become complicit in football's culture of "to fire is to fix", as long as they realise their greed and total absence of managerial comradeship is encouraging the overlords to be ever-increasingly egomaniacal.
It is the managers who wave to the fans on a weekly basis, accepting the hero-worship, declaring what the club mean to them, banging on about their vision, saying how we're all in this together. That doesn't happen in normal jobs, in normal life. That's what makes it different, that and the responsibility they are always so keen to assume to those thousands of fans. Being honest is the very least of that responsibility.
Perhaps it is hopelessly naïve to expect other managers to follow Martinez's example. Indeed, perhaps it's hopelessly naïve to expect Martinez to follow Martinez's example. (After all, he left Swansea to join Wigan and the Swans' recent elevation shows his job was clearly not finished at the Liberty). But just for once, a gaffer put his heart before his head, his pride before his wallet, his pledge before his ambition. That's football before business for those of you who don't understand. Thankfully, there is still a distinction between the two.
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