Thursday, 16 February 2012

Want job security? Don't become a football manager

We all know that the job situation here in the UK is not particularly secure for anybody right now. But however insecure your job is, be grateful of one thing.

You are not a football manager in England.

Yesterday's news that Lee Clark of Huddersfield Town had been sacked when his team were 4th in League One was greeted by many football fans with incredulity. The team had only recently ended a record breaking unbeaten run and they had lost 3 games out of 55. And he lost his job. I'm hearing there may have been other issues in the offing, but if that's not a sign that winning games is not enough to keep your job as a football manager, I don't know what is.

On hearing the news, I referred to the list of English football league managers on Wikipedia. It makes for sobering reading. He's not there anymore, but Lee Clarke with a tenure of 3 years and 2 months was the 12th longest serving of the 92 managers listed.

Look further at the list and it becomes even more disturbing. Over 40 managers, a figure which includes that least secure of all management types, the caretaker manager, have been in the "job" for less than one year. A further 25 have been in post for less than 2 years. If you make it to 2 years in the job, you are doing really well as you've survived longer than 70% of other managers. And so it goes on. If you make it to 5 years, you're practically a saint. Well, maybe they'll put a brick with your name on when they next rebuild one of the stands. One that can be painted over when your inevitable fall from grace occurs.

There are only 4 managers who have lasted significantly longer than that. One is a manager who has brought his club into the Football League from the Conference. The other three are all Premier League Managers - David Moyes, who should make it to the tenth anniversary of his appointment at Everton next month, Arsene Wenger and of course, at the top of this particular tree is Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, who has now been in post for over 25 years.

Is the fact that he has been there so long connected to the club's success? Ask most people and they will say yes. At the start of his Manchester United career, things didn't go well for him at all. In fact, he'd been in charge for nearly 4 seasons by the time he won his first trophy. It was another 3 years before he won a league title, a total of nearly 7 seasons before he won the prize that most club boards want to win.

Can you imagine that happening today? I can't. Owners and chairmen are much, much less patient - they want return on investment quickly and are quick to dismiss a manager they perceive to be under-performing. This creates the management merry-go-round in that they then tempt managers already in jobs to move to their club - oh yes, this is not just about managers being sacked but managers jumping ship too, but then, they wouldn't jump if the vacancy wasn't there in the first place. If clubs were more patient, there'd be a lot of managers who'd been in their job a lot longer than just a few months.

It's hard to put this into a real life context, because it's not real life. In other industries, people would just not be that well-known enough to come to the attention of others like that. And in other industries, your performance is not measured in the same way. I get that clubs don't want to be relegated but generally, that doesn't mean they need to sack the manager and that only affects a small proportion of clubs. Some teams that were relegated last season still have the same managers.

Largely, it is a case of expectation versus reality. Many clubs want more than the money they have available to them will provide. And yes, football is very much about money these days. What isn't?

I guess it could be worse. They could be managers in Spain's La Liga. Vicente del Bosque was once  removed from his post at Real Madrid (his contract wasn't renewed rather than actually sacked) the day after he'd won the club a league title and a week after they had signed one D. Beckham. His misdemeanour? Not winning the Champions League.

In what other profession could your performance be viewed so critically by so many, most of whom have less knowledge and expertise than yourself? Be written about, given abuse both publically and privately? The only upside is that the compensatory payouts are good. And there is always guaranteed work in the media as a pundit or analyst when you are free of weekly commitments shouting at your team.

Most of us couldn't live under the kind of scrutiny that football managers live under, nor could we live with the insecurity. That's why, from me at least, I believe they are due every respect for what they do. It's one of those jobs that is a calling, not just a job. Good job it is so well paid.
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