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The impossible job of a football manager

Quique Setien has come under fire once again for Barcelona
Quique Setien has come under fire once again for Barcelona's underwhelming performance against Espanyol.
Raj Das
ANALYST
Modified 09 Jul 2020
Feature

Football Club Barcelona's manager Quique Setien came under fire once again after his team’s underwhelming 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Espanyol.

The result came after the Blaugrana’s fantastic 4-1 win away at the Ceramica against Villareal. It was hoped that Barcelona would continue improving on their rich vein of form but the team failed to deliver on that front.

In Barcelona's defence, it can be said that the bottom-placed side from Cornella defended in a 5-3-2 shape, with their centre-forwards coming down to defend in an all-out defensive formation. Barcelona, already lacing in width, struggled massively to find an opening against a side fighting for La Liga survival.

Although Barcelona won the game, fingers were once again pointed at Quique Setien who has not had the best of starts at the Nou Camp.

His critics blame him for letting two-goal leads slip and even suggest that his predecessor Ernesto Valverde would have delivered a third straight La Liga title had he been allowed to continue.

People are already asking Setien to be sacked in various social media platforms as Barcelona look unlikely to win a hat-trick of La Liga titles in as many seasons.

Football has become a result-oriented business 

Don Revie managing Leeds United.
Don Revie managing Leeds United.

There was once a time when football managers were allowed time to build their teams. Club owners sacrificed short-term success for the building up of a ‘dynasty’ of sorts in which talented young players were developed under the aegis of a trusted manager.

The manager too was assured of his place in the football club’s plans. He did not worry about not winning a few games because for him, finding the right solution for the club’s long-term success and stability was more important.

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There was also a time not long ago when football managers dared to plan for three, four, or even five seasons ahead. Players were brought in with the intention of using their services for the next five seasons before shipping them to an interested party.

Sir Alex Ferguson spent 27 years at a single football club, Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson spent 27 years at a single football club, Manchester United.

Football managers of such ilk include Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Brian Clough and even Don Revie.

Such managers did not always have successful seasons. Ferguson had a torrid time from 2003 to 2006, which he described in his autobiography as one of his 'least fertile spells' at Manchester United. Ferguson was probably one of the few managers in football history to have enjoyed great support and patronage throughout his tenure at Old Trafford.

Arsene Wenger could not replicate his great success after the 2005-06 season. In fact, the Frenchman never won another league title since 2004, despite remaining at the North London club until 2018. The Frenchman never won the Champions League either.

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However, Wenger is responsible for the building of Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium and for preparing the club for the challenges of 21st century football.

Arsene Wenger has become a legend at Arsenal, transforming the football club into a modern conglomerate.
Arsene Wenger has become a legend at Arsenal, transforming the football club into a modern conglomerate.

Brian Clough, appointed in 1975, managed Nottingham Forest for 16 years. He won the European Cup on two consecutive occasions in 1978-79 and 1979-80, but that achievement took four years after he assumed the mantle at Forest. Yet, he too could not sustain his success throughout his tenure.

Nottingham Forest has the picture of Brian Clough lifting the European Cup in their tunnel.
Nottingham Forest has the picture of Brian Clough lifting the European Cup in their tunnel.

The point therefore is that it takes time to build a successful football team, and in elite clubs of England, Spain and Italy today, the process is very gruesome. Football managers are expected to deliver results in the form of silverware simultaneously while building their teams.

In some clubs such as Barcelona, winning trophies alone is not enough. The team is expected to play a certain type of football, tiki-taka in this case, and even when the team wins, there is always room for improvement.

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What about Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola?

Jürgen Klopp was given time to build a strong side at Liverpool, a luxury in today
Jürgen Klopp was given time to build a strong side at Liverpool, a luxury in today's management.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are two of the most exciting and successful managers in the Premier League today, but their career trajectories are very different.

One of the reasons why Jurgen Klopp’s tenure is considered to be successful, despite only managing to win the Premier League five years after stepping in, is that he was not brought in to deliver quick success. 

Liverpool needed to reinvent themselves and restore their place among the elite of football. Therefore, the German manager was given time to build his team. There was no ultimatum brandished by the Liverpool owners for not winning any trophy in his first few years at the club.

It is fair to say that Klopp has restored Liverpool’s glory. He won the UEFA Champions League last season, while this season he has delivered the Anfield club their first league title in three decades.

But Klopp would never have been given so much time in any other elite club, or even at Liverpool, had the latter been flying high in English football.

Compare that to Pep Guardiola’s managerial career so far. Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona is so fondly remembered today because he could fulfil the mythical role of the successful manager who tastes success quickly.

In his very first season, the Catalan managed to deliver a haul of six trophies to Barcelona, an unprecedented achievement and a feat that has not been accomplished since.

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Guardiola was also helped by a core group of players who were entering their peak: Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta and Victor Valdes. He added a few La Masia players who were already ingrained with Barcelona’s possession-based playing philosophy.

In Lionel Messi, Guardiola also had a talismanic presence who could make a difference.

Pep Guardiola is so fondly remembered at Barcelona perhaps because he delivered success so quickly and by playing attractive football.
Pep Guardiola is so fondly remembered at Barcelona perhaps because he delivered success so quickly and by playing attractive football.

We are not trying to find faults in Guardiola or belittling his achievements. But we must wonder how different his legacy would have looked like had he not managed to find success so quickly and astonishingly at the Nou Camp.

The changing dimensions of football management

Football managers have become disposable commodities today.
Football managers have become disposable commodities today.

Patience runs thin in today’s football. Club owners and fans want instant success. Lucrative sponsorship deals are on the line.

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Thrown amidst all this chaos, the football manager finds himself balancing elements way beyond football. It is not as simple as winning matches. The job demands more and more every year.

Football club owners have become myopic and short-sighted. Managers are chopped and changed very quickly.

A lack of gratitude also plays a prominent role. Or else, how can one explain the sacking of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri? The man who led the club to an unlikely Premier League title found himself without a job two years later.

Yes, Leicester were a point above the relegation zone when Ranieri was fired, but did they expect to win the league in 2015 when they first appointed him?

Some football managers like Marcelo Bielsa prefer to be in a long-term process. When Andrea Radrizzani, the Italian owner of Leeds United approached the Argentine manager, Bielsa agreed because the project excited him. He wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process of a great club such as Leeds United.

Marcelo Bielsa belongs to the old guard of football management.
Marcelo Bielsa belongs to the old guard of football management.

Bielsa is 64 years old and belongs to the generation of Claudio Ranieri (68), Arsene Wenger (70) and even Alex Ferguson (78). All these managers belong to a time when football managers and clubs shared the same synergy. It was a time when football managers were revered and became cult heroes like Don Revie.  

Mauricio Pochettino. The job of managing a football club is becoming harder.
Mauricio Pochettino. The job of managing a football club is becoming harder.

Today, managers have become dispensable commodities. The average football fan who may not have an inkling as to why a team lost a match will almost always inevitably shift the blame to the manager.

In the coming years, football managers must be prepared to sell their souls if they want to keep their jobs.   

Published 09 Jul 2020, 19:48 IST
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