The Last Word: Meet the boss. He might not be paid if you don't win
The figures of what managers earn in the lower leagues will astound you
Sunday 11 November 2012
Welcome to the world of the no- win, no-fee football manager. He is a natural networker, an obsessive character, a born survivor. His key players are barely on the minimum wage, and his employers are as philanthropic as Victorian mill owners.
These men are football's hidden heroes. You will know their names, but since their reputations depend on the illusion of glamour and the aura of authority they project, they will confirm details of their professional lives only with the guarantee of anonymity.
They may be spectral figures, but they are grateful to be working 18-hour days. They are in The Show, relishing its rhythms and rituals. They know what it is like to be on the outside, sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring or badgering friends for tickets.
Some are scarred, not by the experience of being sacked, but by subsequent struggles to receive compensation to which they are entitled. Others are prepared to endure any indignity to maintain a presence in the hardest game.
Roberto Mancini may whimper about deserving greater respect. Andre Villas-Boas may be dogged by malicious preconceptions about his ability. Nigel Adkins may be obliged to listen to strangers debating his job prospects. Yet they are the lucky ones.
One experienced League One manager worked for nothing last season to prove he was worthy of a contract. Another two, to my knowledge, are following his lead. All depend on a bonus system, linked to points won, position achieved and, in some cases, players sold.
An emerging manager in League Two, a former player who grew into an outstanding development coach, receives a basic annual salary of £20,000. Compared with some of the players in the division he is well paid. One senior pro, at his eighth club, accepted a short-term contract worth £150 a week.
Another, a journeyman striker, is on £200 a week until Christmas. They can make up to £600 a game playing semi-professionally with unfeasibly ambitious clubs outside the Conference, but prefer to have unbroken League status on their CVs. Chairmen do not have to know that they moonlight as gardeners and cash-in-hand coaches.
Some unemployed managers will do anything to engineer face time with prospective employers. One, who has worked in all four divisions, infamously chased a director around a car park seeking an introduction.
Since supply comfortably outstrips demand, abuses of trust are inevitable. A well-qualified candidate was informed by a chairman that he was about to sack his manager. He was promised a place on the shortlist, and was asked to source a loan player, who was an instant hit. Though the axe fell, the job interview did not materialise.
The market is spasmodic. Premier League managers have greater security, largely because they are more expensive to sack, but the average lifespan in League One is 14 months. Managers under pressure are particularly sensitive to the vulture gallery that consists of unemployed managers who regularly attend matches at clubs going through difficult spells.
They can also do without academics, who have a bloodless approach to blood-letting. One so-called "trapdoor" model, published by Cambridge University's business school, suggested that any manager averaging under 0.74 points a game should be sacked.
I attended a conference in which the proponent of another study concluded that increasing the wage bill by £100 million would lead to an average increase of 0.8 points a game. Conversely, a team without five players because of injury would accrue 0.2 points fewer a game.
Back in the real world, League Two's newest manager, Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe Wanderers, has earned his chance by making the most of a squad decimated by 14 long-term injuries.
The club scrapped their successful youth scheme because of financial restraints and cannot afford even to recruit non-League players. Whatever they pay Ainsworth – and that's between him and his accountants – it is nowhere near enough.
No rest for Coe, Man of the Year
Sebastian Coe was once dismissed as the Anna Kournikova of sports politics. Nice chap, takes a good photo, but essentially lightweight.
It was a typically cheap aside, delivered by one of the committee-room warriors who failed to grasp the magnitude of Coe's vision for British sport.
Coe will be adjudged Man of the Year for delivering a flawless Olympic Games. He deserves each accolade, every gong that comes his way.
No one would have blamed him for resting on his laurels, but he has decided to risk his reputation by becoming chairman of the British Olympic Association.
He received assurances he will not be compromised by the financial problems of a dysfunctional organisation who overplay their role in the regeneration of British sport.
Such trust is admirable, but his plan to appoint Sir Clive Woodward, a divisive figure, as team leader for the Rio Olympics will not help build consensus among squabbling factions. His concurrent role, as a Government cheerleader for Olympic legacy, is fraught with similar problems.
Should the main stadium fail to re-open until 2016 because of the conflicting agendas involved, he will be obliged to defend the indefensible.
He will do it in a polished manner. Incredibly, however, some will relish his discomfort.
Football is enduring a wretched time. It will be tainted by greed, malice and rancour for the foreseeable future. How refreshing, then, to see Fabrice Muamba's cathartic return to White Hart Lane; proof that the old game can, despite itself, raise the spirits.
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