The Matt Holland Column: No peace, no let-up, no time at home – no job for a sane man

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The Independent Football

Sympathy is a rare feeling in professional football. Once over the white line I have absolutely none for my opponents, and think of nothing more than how to beat them, and beat them well. But I must confess to a weary shaking of the head when I heard last week that Colin Todd had been sacked as manager of Derby County.

Four wins in 17 matches over three months were the statistics that damned him. They certainly are poor, and part of the reason why Derby are embroiled in a relegation battle, but not as poor as the statistics of the Derby board – the hirers and firers. Two managers sacked in just over half a season.

This compares to the volatile behaviour of one or two owners and chairmen in the Spanish league. It would seem that the stakes are now so high that the one thing that all managers need, time, is the one thing they do not have. I think that time might even be more important than money, although it transpires that Todd had precious little of that either.

Our manager at Ipswich, George Burley, has worked under strict budgets for the past five years but has still managed to fashion a squad who are able to compete in the Premiership.

Yes, he is a shrewd judge of players and he is also adept at hunting down bargains – after all, he bought me! But he still needed to be backed up by the patience of the chairman. Even when we were failing in the play-offs there was never any question of him being replaced, and the rewards of such an understanding approach were promotion to the Premiership and a run in the Uefa Cup. Despite our current perilous position in the League, a continued stay in the top flight should not be discounted either.

Sir Alex Ferguson is another example of a manager who was allowed to develop a squad over years rather than months. So much of Manchester United's success in the past four or five years can be traced directly back to the restructuring and the effort that he put into developing the club's youth system and coaching set-up.

The wonderful thing about United's success is the number of home-grown youngsters that they have produced. Neville & Neville, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and Giggs are fine players, in some cases world-class, but would they be household names now if the board had sacked Ferguson after one season? No one knows the answer, but if I had to give an opinion I would say probably not.

So, with so much pressure on managers, who would want to be one? Not me. Well, let me qualify that by saying probably not me.

From my experience, managers never seem to be at home. Players train, have treatment and then go home. Managers are on the training ground, studying videos, preparing for the next match or matches, watching potential new players, selling current ones and then dealing with the media, both local and national.

Truly, 24 hours in a day is not enough. It is an extraordinary workload. I did not watch the television programme last week that followed Sam Allardyce and Dave Bassett, the managers of Bolton Wanderers and Leicester City respectively, but my wife, Paula, was stunned at the stress they were under.

Their heart rates during games doubled and nearly tripled, and yet the thing that struck Paula was their helplessness during the actual match. While their hearts raced, all they could do was substitute someone or change tactics, or scream and shout a lot. They do not have the relief of actually being able to make a tackle, or score a goal.

At least player-managers can do that, but I am not sure that they suffer any less stress than normal managers. In fact I can't think of a player who combined both roles to the high standards they had set as a player. Kenny Dalglish, Luca Vialli and Ruud Gullit soon became managers rather than player-managers, and although part of the reason was the natural ending of their playing careers, I also believe they found the workload too exhausting.

In fact I think managers should have less responsibility, not more. The big football clubs are, in essence, medium-sized businesses, and how many of those rely on one or two "managers" to make all the decisions.

Chelsea had the right idea when they delegated some of the manager's tasks to a managing director, Colin Hutchinson. As I understand it he deals with the finance, transfer negotiations and administration aspects, leaving the football manager, Claudio Ranieri, to concentrate on football.

This must benefit the manager's health by removing some of the more onerous and time-consuming tasks from his workload. If anyone is in doubt about the terrible stress that a manager is under they only need watch that TV programme and think of Gérard Houllier.

I had my own stress after last week's win against Tottenham. Four of us were selected for a drug test and having just completed about six miles during the match, most of which were at near full pace, I struggled to give a sample.

For over an hour I walked around the room drinking pints of water and eventually I managed the required 70ml and was allowed to leave. The rest is obvious, and if anybody witnessed a car pulling up in a lay-by on the A12 and a man standing next to a hedge, I am claiming it wasn't me.

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