IT was truly a delight to open this morning”s papers to the news that “Bayern Munich are a bit good, aren”t they?”, with balanced and reasonable commentary of both the game, and of what it means for Arsenal”s standing in the European game.
Actually, I”ve lied there. I no longer buy newspapers as a rule, let alone open them, and beyond that, I haven”t really looked that hard for commentary on the game beyond the Arsenal bloggers and fans whose views I respect, and the football writers I know I can trust. They said Bayern were very good, and that Arsenal were kind of overwhelmed, compounded by individual lapses. That seems balanced to me.
Regardless of that, however, I”m pretty confident the tone this morning and for the remainder of the day will continue from where it left off before: that Wenger is cracking up, that Wenger is in the ejector seat, that Wenger”s Alsatian hams are in “le trancheuse jambon”, and so forth. Blah blah blah, Wenger out!
Benitez out! Dalglish out! Rodgers out!
Christ, during last Sunday”s game, having taken the trouble to go looking for it, many Swansea fans were crying “Laudrup out!”.
Basically, it”s dawned on me at long last that people are, and always have been, mad. When I write for The Anfield Wrap, I tend to go on and on about the need for patience and balance, that the only term is the long term, that managers need to be able to learn from their mistakes, and so on and so on. I can only apologise – it must seem hackneyed by now.
The underlying presumption on my part has been the expectation of sanity and patience. But I”m realising now that I”ve been harking after something that just doesn”t tend to exist. And it”s always been that way, hasn”t it? In those happy little pockets where it hasn”t, it”s been a lucky exception to the general rule.
Modern fans aren”t really a new breed. Older heads don”t all know the value of patience and understanding, and of wholehearted support. Things have changed, there”s no doubting that, but it”s not because of the times we live in, and of a throwaway culture, or any of that stuff. We”re still people. We”re still wired the same way we always were, as people, and as big massive mobs of people.
Speaking to mates about the game, thinking about the FSF and SOS”s “Football is nothing without fans” campaign, and speaking to people like Craig Easton about the way the game is run in places like Germany, it makes you realise that things aren”t that simple. You want support? Make the fans have a stake. Make it cheap (or at least reasonably priced) for them to travel to and enter games. Give them a slice of their club. Christ, give them the feeling that they own it outright, either legally or, if you can pull it off, spiritually. Then you can start expecting patience and support.
Patience and support are the only free lunch in football these days. They cost you nothing but commitment and nerve. But Christ, those things aren”t easy to muster. Treat us like patrons and stakeholders, and we”ll invest in our stake. Treat us like consumers, and it”s almost inevitable we”ll throw rotten tomatoes the minute we”re not entertained. If you own a football club, you might as well start from the presumption that you won”t get patience and support, and that media, fans, and whoever else is interested will put pressure on, cos they”re bored, or they”re addicted to the existential distraction of panic, crisis, and drama. Against that backdrop, there”ll always be constant pressure to recycle managers. Maybe we should accept it. Maybe we should even plan to achieve success in spite of it.
I was reaching that stage in my thinking, when I had the pleasure of interviewing Swansea blogger Peter Thomas and Chris Wathan of the Western Mail ahead of the Swansea game the other Sunday (for a preview piece). In the process of doing that, I got a bite-sized insight into a different approach – a plan that bakes in the expectation of managerial turnover. Retain your key skills, learn what you can from each manager that comes and goes, keep what works, bin what doesn”t, and repeat.
The following quotes stood out.
“Prior to Brendan Rodgers” removal Huw Jenkins, our Chairman, was cute. David Leadbetter had been recruited as our Chief Scout and he has an excellent reputation from his Middlesbrough days. Similarly, Michael Laudrup recruited one of his men, Erik Larssen, as his Assistant, now supplemented by Morten Wieghorst, leaving Larssen free to spend time scouting abroad. These moves were key in negating the loss of almost all of Brendan”s staff. Continuity was supplied by Alan Curtis, a Swans legend who is nowadays not just a coach but the first team coach.”
“Swansea kept their scouting team which the club have always felt key to really ensuring the philosophy and success stayed. They learned the lessons when Martinez left for Wigan taking their chief scout with him and made sure that wouldn”t happen again. It is not to say the manager does not have a big hand in who comes in… but Swansea still have the same two chief scouts that make sure only “Swansea players” come in. Players are bought to fit the system and philosophy and not the other way around. Of course, Laudrup”s Spanish contacts have come in handy but – for example – I know Ki was a target before Rodgers left.
Chris then turned up in , and moved on to the next lesson: that as well as being pragmatic and looking to insulate themselves from the vagaries of the managerial merry-go-round, they went the next step in holistic, joined-up thinking.
Again, over to Chris.
“They do things with a common-sense approach, a sort of succession planning. They almost know what they want before things reach a crisis point. They had already researched Laudrup and had him lined up before Rodgers left for Liverpool. The process had started and I’ve no doubt they have already thought about what will happen when Laudrup eventually moves…
Swansea, being the size of a club that they are, know they cannot rely on a manager being there forever. That’s not being negative or defeatist, it’s a realistic approach which means they can move on easier than those who bury their heads in the sand.”
Interesting against that backdrop that Liverpool have moved to a blueprint strategy with a custodian committee designed to own and work against that blueprint. You hear people saying things like “Ah, but he wasn”t Rodgers” signing”. Maybe that”s something we need to start considering, a la Swansea. It”s quite a continental model, of course, but maybe against our modern backdrop it”s more sustainable, and likely to yield linear progress over the long-term. With decent resources, that”s important.
So should I relax on the subject of the manager and his job security? Well, it”d presume that, like Swansea, the joined up thinking was already in place, and that empire building was a thing of the past within Liverpool FC. That, you”d think, will take time and integration at a club that was on the brink of oblivion and run by the Cuban-heeled Herve Villechaise of football finance not so long ago. (That”s a compliment by the way – I love Herve Villechaise. “The Plane! The Plane!”)
It”s a start that all the key players are sitting down and talking together. January was encouraging in that respect, I think. But the summer will obviously be telling.
So is this kind of enlightened succession planning the way to go? It”s maybe a pipe dream, much like the idea of cheap travel and ticket prices, of stakes in clubs and the like. But hey – we can dream, can”t we? (Maybe my dreams are duller than most.)