Turning of the Managerial Tide

In the last week, the top of the Premier League has been strengthened considerably, with André Villas-Boas (I don’t know if you’ve seen this mentioned, but he used to work with Jose Mourinho) and Ashley Young joining Chelsea and Manchester United for similar amounts of money respectively.


Villas-Boas has now become the most expensive manager in the world, yet players were being transferred for similar amounts as far back as 1992; nearly twenty years ago Gianluigi Lentini moved from Torino to Milan for £13 million. Four years later, Alan Shearer cost £15 million when moving from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United. Since Shearer’s trip across the north of England, the world transfer record for players has been broken a further eight times.


It has always struck me as strange that in terms of recruitment, players are deemed to be so much more important than managers that the world record for a player is six-times the record for a manager. But, when it starts to go wrong, it’s the ‘unimportant’ manager who gets the blame, while the player continues picking up his salary playing for whomever the new manager happens to be.


Yet, surely it shouldn’t be this way. Who is the most important man at a football club? Apart from a few examples down the years, it’s surely the manager. Who would Madridista’s rather see leave; Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo? Who is the easiest to replace? Messi or Guardiola, Rooney or Ferguson?


Since the Roman Abramovich takeover of 2003, Chelsea has made a habit of going through managers; Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti have all been and gone. You can even count Ray Wilkins in that if you like, following his one match in charge in 2009 (A 3-1 FA Cup win against Watford). But none of those cost £13 million, at least not when it came to hiring them.


Ancelotti was fired after a barren season, yet in his two seasons he won the Premier League and an FA Cup, not a bad record. What will happen to Villas-Boas if by the end of next season he is trophyless? It’s one thing to pay off a manager who you haven’t already paid a fortune for, it’s quite another to write off a massive transfer fee.


And writing off a massive transfer fee is something we know Chelsea don’t like doing – they took Adrian Mutu to court after his sacking following a positive cocaine test. Mutu was ruled to owe the club €17,173,990, a phenomenal amount for one person to owe. Can you imagine Chelsea suing Villas Boas after a barren season or two?


Maybe this massive transfer fee will see some power switch to the managers, something they have been lacking over recent times. From 1995-2005, the average length of time a manager lasted in a job was 2.19 years, a figure that is still falling. During this time, 584 managers lost their jobs – 92% of them were fired. Yet, if a club has forked out a transfer fee for a manager, surely there will be an emphasis on giving them time to settle, and gel a team together.


And this doesn’t just apply to the big clubs. Birmingham City is reputed to be demanding in excess of £5 million for Alex McLeish from cross-city rivals Aston Villa. If you are investing that amount of finance in one man, and one man who has to work by himself, not as a cog in a team as managers do, he has to be backed both in terms of finance and time.


Of course, it is possible the opposite could happen. One assumes that if transfer fees are to be paid up front, there will be rigorous clauses allowing clubs to sack the manager without adding to the cost of massive compensation payments, the likes of which Rafael Benitez has benefited from in the last 12 months (two sackings, reportedly £9 million in his back pocket). This will see the costs involved in purchasing the manager becoming ‘sunk-costs’, it’s been paid, no matter what happens that cost cannot be reclaimed. If the manager’s work is up to scratch, he may as well be given the push. The fee for him has already been paid.


Potentially, this summer is going to be a watershed in the purchase of managers. £18 million is the running total so far; if previous years are anything to go by, that’s more than some clubs will be spending on players. The power could be moving back to the managers, it’s up to them to prove that they’re worth it.

Tom Bason

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