This weeks news concerning the apparent departures of Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert to Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively means that the warm glow of satisfaction hanging over The Liberty Stadium and Carrow Road following a job well done last season seems unlikely to last for much longer. Swansea City and Norwich City were treated with derision by many upon their arrival into the Premier League a year ago, but the two clubs confounded expectations to complete their first seasons in their new home with so much as the concept of relegation crossing their minds. Indeed, the last day of the season saw, with hindsight, two results that would throw a light on the inner workings of the managerial merry-go-round with Swansea beating Liverpool and Norwich beating Villa.
The costs of such success, however, cam be high. The significant achievements of Rodgers & Lambert last season drew the attention of two clubs with larger fan-bases and greater resources. This week, those who had romanticised these two clubs may have died a little on the inside as the occasionally intangible considerations that football frequently throws those lucky enough to be in its employ persuaded these two to jettison the work that they had put in at the modestly run clubs that they have been calling home of late. It is, arguably, possible to criticise either of these appointments for having a hint of flavour of the month about them. Both Rodgers and Lambert have only been in the Premier League for a season and either might have fallen flat on their faces over the course of the next twelve months. The Premier League is littered with the corpses of those that were briefly feted for their alchemic powers.
We’re not, however, here today to discuss the rights and wrongs of these appointments from a footballing perspective. Either Rodgers or Lambert – or both – might succeed in their new positions, but either – or both – might fail as well and without a fully functioning crystal ball it is difficult to tell which way this roll of the dice might land. And a roll of the dice it is. There is no such thing as guaranteed managerial success and, while the actions and decisions of managers can have obvious ramifications for the well-being of a club, the complex inner workings of a football club, despite the simplistic narrative that we are spoon fed by the media on a daily basis, can be more difficult to completely tame than would be humanly possible for one individual. The football manager has become a cult of personality, but as Roberto di Matteo demonstrated in the Champions League two weeks ago, there are few certainties when it comes to predicting which managerial appointments will work even in the short-term, never mind over the course of year after year.
The moral aspects of clubs effectively poaching managers from each other are frequently viewed through the simplistic prism of “bigger clubs bad, smaller clubs good” (and goodness know this something we’ve been guilty of enough on this very site before), but again there can be complications inherent in viewing stories such as these in this respect. The supporters of Colchester United, for example, may allow themselves a wry smile at the events at Carrow Road this week. After all, Paul Lambert arrived there as the manager of their club on the opening day of the 2009/10 season and won by seven goals to one. Within days, he was the manager of Norwich City and went on to lead the club to two successive promotions while Colchester remain firmly embedded in League One.”What if?”, they may ask, but if to say that Lambert would have led Colchester to two successive promotions is stretching the bounds of credibility somewhat, then at least Norwich supporters can console themselves with what he achieved for their club.
To this extent, football is a food chain. It always had been and it always will be, and to expect anything but a moral vacuum from those within the game who already know that they will be lavishly rewarded for whatever successes they do manage seems like a bit of a stretch. The position of the manager within a club, however, does retain such an aura of power that it may have become self-perpetuating, and if we are to take it as read that the managers position is important then why, we might well consider, is there not a transfer market as sophisticated for managers as there is for players? After all, a good managerial appointment will, at least as much as any specific player if the cult of the football manager is to be believed. Yet the entire process for bringing in new managers seems relatively unregulated in comparison with the transfer windows and compensation rules that are in place for players. According to reports in the press this morning, Aston Villa have already stated that they have no intention of paying any compensation to Norwich City for having taken their manager from them. Perhaps the reason why the turnover of managers is so high because it is a relatively low-cost way for the owner of a club to make a sweeping statement without the element of gamble that is inherent in throwing a lot of money at the playing budget.
It is, however, also worth bearing in mind that football clubs which do lose managers may not necessarily completely deserve our sympathy. After all, the culture of hiring and firing has become completely endemic within football, and clubs are quick to release managers from their contracts at the first signs of anything going wrong. It is, perhaps, in some respects a disappointment to see these two bright, young managers leaving the clubs at which they have achieved so much before we had seen whether we had got to see whether they had taken these clubs as far as they could. Possibly both Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert will consider themselves a little fortunate to found themselves in the positions in which they could both avoid any doses of Second Season Syndrome that may affect the clubs at which they have been so successful of late while getting a chance at mining the resources of bigger fish in terms of the Premier League. Both Liverpool and Aston Villa have taken something of a chance in making these appointments, and only time will tell whether they have been successful. Swansea City and Norwich City, meanwhile, have learned the hard way that perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being successful is that others will see what you are doing and try to steal it.
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