I read on WML recently that Gianfranco Zola is now the sixth longest-serving manager in the Championship, having been at Watford just 16 months. That speaks volumes about the ludicrous pressures managers work under these days, and it got me thinking about ways of redressing the balance between managers and players.
So here’s my bright – and completely unworkable, before anyone points it out – idea, based on the oft-stated principle that the manager of a football club should be given three seasons to prove themself: one to ship out the players they inherited but don’t want, one to bring in players they think will improve the team, and one to blend them together into a winning unit.
It’s a simple enough concept. On June 1st 2014, every club in the Premier League and Football League gives its manager (the incumbent or a new arrival – their choice) a three-year contract containing a clause that makes it unbreakable. That is, the club can’t sack the manager, and the manager can’t leave for another club. Three years later, the clubs have the opportunity to make the managers an offer of another three-year term if they want, and the managers have the chance to switch clubs. Then the three-year cycle starts again.
There are several benefits to this scheme. For one thing, it defuses player power. Dressing-room rebellions are futile if the players know they can’t force the manager out, so they just have to get on with the job of playing football. If they don’t like it, they can leave. The manager’s authority is decisive.
For another, it forces clubs to think a bit more carefully about who they appoint. No more hiring an ex-pro everyone on the board has heard of who’s been moderately successful somewhere else (yes, I’m talking about you, Messrs Hughes, Bruce and co.), and who they can jettison after 15 months if they haven’t brought success by then. They need to find someone with a genuine vision and the skill and charisma to make it a reality.
By taking the pressure off managers, it should also improve their performance. No one is at their best when they’re constantly looking over their shoulder. A relaxed manager can focus all his energy on improving his team, without having to field idiotic post-match questions from Garth Crooks about whether they’re expecting a call from the chairman this evening.
Of course, not everyone will be happy. The media will lose a key source of stories, and fans will have to learn that they can wave all the homemade banners they want, go on endless protest marches and sing countless rude songs about the manager – he isn’t going anywhere until the three years are up. But think of it this way: it’s no different to politics. Many of us aren’t happy with the people running our country, but we know there’s no point getting too worked up about it right now. Another lot will be along come the next election, and hopefully they’ll do a better job.
Obviously, some checks and balances would have to be built into the system. There would be the capacity for a club to sack a manager who was convicted of a crime, for instance, and equally, he could be released from his contract in the case of severe illness or other mitigating personal circumstances. But apart from that, a contract would be a contract, and everybody’s blood pressure would be reduced as a result. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?