Transfer burden of dealing

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The Independent Online
When recalling his experiences in Barcelona, the England coach, Terry Venables, has touched upon a difference made significant this week by the downfall of his friend, George Graham.

As Barcelona's coach, and in keeping with a policy commonly adopted abroad, Venables was not required to negotiate transfers or arrange contracts. Once he had gained permission to strengthen the team and established contact, all further business was conducted by Barcelona's executive directors. "My responsibilities were to one thing alone, the football, while other people dealt with the rest," Venables emphasised in his autobiography.

I first became aware of this eminently sensible idea many years ago when Tottenham Hotspur were attempting to sign Jimmy Greaves from Milan. In accordance with a tradition of British football, Tottenham left things entirely to their manager, Bill Nicholson. Milan, on the other hand, were represented by their general secretary, the late Bruno Passalaqua, who, while having the greatest respect for Nicholson, found it strange to be dealing with a football man rather than an administrator. "We would never think of asking our coach, Nereo Rocco, to get involved in selling and buying players or arranging salaries," he said, "and I'm sure he wouldn't want to. Once Rocco decided that Greaves would never be happy with us, it was my responsibility to arrange his transfer."

As negotiations over contracts and transfers intrude upon the technical and tactical considerations upon which their careers depend, I find it curious that so many managers should be opposed to what would surely be a beneficial change in the terms of reference. "You are forgetting about loyalty," one said recently. "When, week after week, you are urging players to give of their best, often before they have recovered fully from an injury, they are bound to expect your support. Because of the way players in this country have been brought up, it's no good suggesting that they should see the directors about a raise. They expect you to get it for them and, these days, deal directly with their agents."

You probably agree that this puts temptation in the way of managers, and poses questions about their integrity. A view held here is that Graham's predicament relates directly to what I am talking about. If he is indeed guilty of conduct that left Arsenal with no option but to sack him, the system that allowed it is clearly flawed.

Apart from anything else, it strikes me that expecting men who have not been educated in finance and should be concentrating on the team's performances to handle such matters is asking for trouble.

Of course, one of the oldest lamentations in football is that club chairmen can quickly get ideas above their station, to the point where they start to interfere in team affairs. Venables sensed that something similar could be a problem in Barcelona, which is why he quickly set out to establish independence. Having decided to opt for the Scottish international, Steve Archibald, as a replacement for Diego Maradona, he discovered that the directors preferred a Mexican international who was then turning out for Atletico Madrid. In his book, Venables said: "I felt that I had to assert my authority in playing matters from the start. It was a battle I could not afford to lose, because the directors had a reputation for going over their coaches' heads, and if I lost the first round, I would lose the rest too . . . but they were careful to distance themselves from the decision. I even had to sign a contract, at the directors request, saying that the decision to sign Archibald was mind alone. Had the signing not worked out, the directors were making sure that I - not they - would carry the can."

However, a healthy respect for the shifts and perils of football management, the disfiguring effects it can have on a man's personality, and recent embarrassments, persuades me to suppose that it is time to alter the structure of responsibility. Give a coach more than he can handle and what do you get? If the present situation is anything to go by, the answer is nothing but trouble.