Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Ghost of Managers Past, Present and Future...?

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives us great pleasure to welcome a new member to the SPAOTP writing team. He's Seb Gevers from the wonderful football blog 'Inside Left' and from here on in we know you're going to enjoy the excellent footballing articles he'll be writing just for you. He begins by looking at the aftermath of this week's two high-profile managerial departures...

The Day of the Damned
indeed. Actually, 'Day of the Doomed' better describes the situation that both Adams and Scolari, sacked from Portsmouth and Chelsea respectively within hours of each other, had gotten themselves into.

That Tony Adams got the sack is hardly a surprise. Never the most eloquent of commentators - about the only thing he had in common with the man he succeeded - Adams looked more and more confused, dishevelled and lost as the season continued. Unable to string a coherent sentence together, let alone a decent run of form, Adams lost all but two of the sixteen games he's been in charge (Sunderland and Blackburn) and needed two attempts to get past Championship side Bristol City before succumbing to another Championship Side, Swansea, in the FA Cup. A paltry 10 points from 16 games left Pompey fifth from bottom, only a point above the relegation zone.

In Luis Felipe Scolari, Chelsea seemed to have found a perfect candidate to take the club forward following the mostly non-descript Avram Grant. Massively experienced with a CV as long as your arm, he guided Brazil to their World Cup victory in 2000, Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2006. Unlike Adams, Scolari got off to a good start. A 4-0 win over Portsmouth (of all people), a scoreline they'd repeat in the League Cup a month later paved, the way to a series of impressive displays and score lines.

But the wheels had started to come off the wagon after the League Cup exit to Burnley. The wins suddenly became harder to come by - a series of draws, a come-from-behind win against Southend and a significant defeat at Old Trafford brought reality to bear: fourth place in the league, seven points behind leaders United and one point behind a new arrival at these giddy heights - Aston Villa. Accusations in the press and discontented muttering from the terraces soon followed: Scolari had no plan B, he'd lost the dressing room and even his stature and good name in the game (not to mention nationality) could not convince Robinho to come to Stamford Bridge.

And so, about a week or so ago, Tony Adams got the dreaded vote of confidence from the board. We all know that a vote of confidence is generally anything but. It is a cynical ploy devised by an unhappy board to buy time while they find someone to replace the very man they brought in after given the previous incumbent the same 'vote of confidence'. Poor Felipe Scolari never got a vote of confidence. He got something a lot worse than that. It happened one evening on a football phone in, as a a long line of Chelsea fans, unhappy at the sides less than impressive performances, all uttered more or less the same phrase: "this would not have happened under Mourinho". As soon as the Special One's (tm) name was mentioned and comparisons where drawn, the end for Scolari was inevitable.

As an Aberdeen fan, I know from bitter experience that any manager brought in to succeed a legend is treading on very thin ice. In our case, Alex Ferguson, fresh from getting the sack at St. Mirren, managed to take a provincial side from mediocrity to European and domestic glory in only a few short years. A tough act to follow, once he headed south, it took a series of mediocre managers to lead the club straight back to provincial obscurity. Pretty much every manager that came failed to match up to the legacy and expectation Fergie left behind. With such a weight on the shoulders, it needed a real miracle worker to win the club, the board, the players and the supporters over. Many tried, all failed.

That both Adams and Scolari got the sack because of poor performances is true, but doesn't tell the whole story. That both managers got the sack because they weren't Redknapp or Mourinho plays a small part in this too. Neither 'Arry or Jose would have allowed the slump in form that both teams suffered, neither would the dressing room have been lost, nor I suspect the press or terraces. "This would not have happened under Mourinho" is a phrase Portsmouth fans could have used too, with one minor adjustment: this would not have happened under Redknapp.

The ghost of managers past is very much alive at Pittodrie as it is, I suspect, at Pride Park, The City Ground, Anfield, Parkhead, Elland Road. Should we now add Stamford Bridge and Fratton Park to that list? Any manager brave enough to take on the job at Portsmouth or Chelsea faces an uphill struggle before he even walks through the front door; shaking of the legacy of all that has gone before is the first hurdle that must be overcome before a ball is kicked. As Brian Clough found out when he joined Leeds United, failure to do so, regardless of how good you are will only lead to inevitable disaster.

And anyone thinking of becoming Manchester United's next manager would do well to remember that.

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