The Last Word: Sorry, Hodgson may have talent but the Axe Factor is compulsive viewing
Sunday 09 January 2011
It's that time of the season again when the League Managers Association come over all Bob Crow and lambast those damn overlords for persecuting their already put-upon members. Respect to Richard Bevan, because his latest missive would have had Karl Marx crying into his season ticket.
Yet, isn't it funny that while Crow, the transport union chief, is roundly criticised as being a trouble-maker, Bevan is depicted as the conscience of English football? One is sticking up for Tube drivers, the other is sticking up for Jaguar drivers.
"There is an incomprehensible belief that the continued sacrificing of the manager, the 'scapegoat', will turn around a club's performance," said the LMA chief executive. "Here, here," screamed the disbelieving audience. Before rushing down the bookies to put a tenner on Roy Hodgson becoming the next evictee on The Axe Factor.
Of course, Bevan is not stupid and knows the blame game won't be ending, or even being curtailed, any time soon as fan power grasps its ever firmer hold. The reaction to the midweek mayhem – not to mention the fall-out that brought its first victim in Hodgson yesterday – has proved as much. How many neutrals found it compelling to sit there and sign off the P45s as the results came in of Chelsea, Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Ham?
The answer is many more than a sick minority. Sorry, but it's part of the entertainment. The Drab Four rocked us that night and their plight will continue to do so.
Claim what you will about the merits of Carlo Ancelotti (numerous), Hodgson (several), Gérard Houllier (lapsed) and Avram Grant (unspecified), but none of that quaking quartet has ever inspired too much sympathy in this quarter. Perhaps that has something to do with their dour characters; or perhaps it's because they would leave full of pocket; or because in football management disloyalty is hardly a one-way street.
Didn't Hodgson turn his back on Fulham not so very long ago? A good football man left a good football club, but, apart from the faithful down by the Thames, few managed so much as a shrug. It's ever been thus in the have-your-cake-and-eat-it hotseat.
Yet why is it? Why is it any less destructive for, say, Owen Coyle to leave Burnley in mid-season, and thus condemn them to relegation, than it is for Newcastle to sack Chris Hughton when they are nowhere near relegation? Burnley hadn't let down Coyle, just as Hughton hadn't let down Newcastle. Is a manager's ambition deemed more important than an owner's ambition, or is it merely easier to understand? Furthermore, where are the "oh, woe is the game" howls when a manager unashamedly walks into a position vacated by a fellow LMA member so reluctantly?
These are not questions for Bevan to answer. The LMA must back their members when they are supposedly treated badly and proceed to uphold the illusion that all the other managers are united in their disgust of the "short-termism". Disgusted maybe, but also comforted that job opportunities will arise very shortly. Who needs the "Latest Vacancies" board at the Jobcentre when you have the "Breaking News" panel on Sky Sports News?
Is there any way for the LMA to bridge this divide between the self-obsessed individual and the caring collective? It would be nice to cite the recent example ofSir Alex Ferguson calling his loan players from Preston because he didn't agree with a knee-jerk sacking as one method by which the strong could support the weak. For if sympathy lies anywhere, it isn't with Hodgson but with young managers struggling to obtain any sort of workable foothold. Alas, Darren Ferguson is Sir Alex's son. Self-interest governs the picket line yet again.
However, thinking about it, this genuinely could be a process by which the supposedly powerful could register their disapproval and make the trigger-happy hesitate. Premier League loanees are becoming more influential in the Championship by the season. Adel Taarabt started out on loan at table-topping QPR and Cardiff wouldn't be second without Manchester City's Craig Bellamy. All it would take would be for the LMA to draw up a blacklist.
But who would decide which clubs are boycotted, and who would obey it? One man's blatant injustice is another man's overdue replacement. Maybe it could be drawn up purely on "time granted in the position", but that would be ridiculously simplistic. But so much is in the oft-cited case for keeping faith in the manager. Here is an argument so well-worn it even has its own clichés. Hodgson's dismissal gives them yet another airing.
Certainly, far too much is made of Manchester United allowing Sir Alex such a prolonged spell to turn it around and so benefiting in the long term. In his first season, he hauled United from 21st to 11th. In his second campaign they finished second. Even Manchester City circa 2010 wouldn't have sacked him in his very early days. And in the third season, which saw United challenge and then dip? Well, by then he was settled in and had outlined his vision. The Big Man can be quite persuasive, you know.
Indeed, it makes just as much sense to look at an another tale of success. Juande Ramos lasted less than a year at Spurs until they replaced him with Harry Redknapp. Then Harry was considered nothing greater than a desperate stop-gap. Evidence, surely, that "short-termism" can have such a lasting future.
Who is to say the same won't apply at Liverpool? Not the LMA. They can throw around statistics and try to present football management as any other profession. It isn't, never has been, never will be. It's about emotion, results, instinct; about dreamingwhat could be and updating these dreams on a weekly basis.
No doubt Bevan is correct; no doubt lower League clubs can't afford to keep firing managers. But that won't stop them. Just as they won't stop paying managers wages that they cannot afford. You see, it's all jumbled together as part of English football's glorious mess. The cause, the symptoms, the cure and the bleating. Remember the LMA are only an "association". "Guilty by..." wouldn't be the most ill-fitting prefix.
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