Managing Expectations

Another season, another managerial sacking at Stamford Bridge.

I (just about) remember Tommy Docherty’s departure as Chelsea boss in October 1967 which upset a lot of supporters (the team lost 7-0 at Leeds next match and the directors carriage on the train home was attacked, allegedly by a fan with an axe). It is sometime forgotten that The Doc had over five years in the job and survived a relegation, only one trophy in that time, a number of scandals, a series of fall-outs with the board, and rows with most of the squad, many of whom left. He is still remembered with great affection by many of those who were regular spectators then, but his record can hardly be called one of constant success.

Football had a longer term perspective then, and the game was less results driven. Managers were given time to build a team (Docherty brought through a squad largely composed of youth team players)and top 1960’s club bosses like Busby, Shankly, Revie, Nicholson and Catterick lasted over a decade each – they weren’t sacked if no trophy was won in a particular season. All were adept at bringing young players through from within the club, but none won trophies every year despite the profile of their club and the size of their fanbase.

Fast forward 45 years. Premier League managers are sacked on a regular basis, often after less than a year in the job. This burning desire by club boards, including Chelsea’s, to achieve instant success means that young players are rarely given the chance to work their way gradually into the first team (the long term approach). The focus is instead on buying expensive ‘ready made’ stars who will hopefully perform effectively from day one (the short term approach). Managers who don’t deliver what (at some clubs) are absurdly high expectations pay the price.

These observations are not just aimed at Chelsea but at what I think is a wider malaise in the game. Mr Abramovich had brought success to Chelsea beyond our wildest dreams, for which he deserves enormous gratitude, and he’s done this by buying hiring top managers and giving them the chance to buy the best players available.

With this financial commitment, though, comes an expectation of fast success and an almost inevitable impatience if it doesn’t arrive. This ‘succeed quickly or go quickly’ model has been common in Spain and Italy for many years, and long-standing managers there are few and far between. It is apparent to me that this model has been in operation at Chelsea and some other English clubs for a while. The stand-out exceptions at top English clubs, Ferguson and Wenger, built themselves power bases under previous owners which have stood them in good stead. I doubt we will see their like again.

Is the English game better for this restlessness, this short-termism, this reluctance to bring young players through consistently, this win-or-die mentality, this lust for global market share, this constant turnover of players and managers? Is it? Really? I’m not so sure. And nor, I suspect, are thousands of others. What it is, though, is the new reality.

By Tim Rolls

You can follow Tim on Twitter and see more of his work on Plains of Almeria

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