On a weekend otherwise only notable for the players of Newcastle United demonstrating a degree of what they may be capable of when required and a truly wince-inducing last game of the season for Liverpool, it was West Ham United who gave this summer’s managerial merry-go-round its firmest push yet in deciding to give Sam Alllardyce his cards within nanoseconds of the full-time whistle at St James Park on Sunday afternoon. Whilst Alllardyce was one of the longer serving managers in the skittish world of Premier League football management, it had always felt as if this particular manager had been something of an uncomfortable fit for this particular club, a throwback to a distant age, swimming against the tide of what passes for progress in the modem game, at a club now beginning what it presumes will be a butterfly-like metamorphosis into something other in preparation for moving into the Olympic Stadium.
Sam Allardyce can, however, sleep easy over his achievements as the manager of West Ham United. Over the course of four years in East London, he presided over its return to the Premier League – a journey that, as the likes of Wigan Athletic, Fulham, Leeds United and a cast of many, many more will glumly attest to being considerably more difficult than most give it credit for being – and three consecutive secure mid-table Premier League finishes. No drama, no crisis, only a slump in form over the second half of this season which might otherwise have been expected anyway. True enough, the actual football itself was, well, a little Allardycesque at times and West Ham United supporters have been raised with with certain expectations over the sort of football that they expect to see, but modern football is, to the near-exclusion of any other considerations, a results game, and Allardyce delivered a degree of security when West Ham supporters might otherwise have found themselves blessed by living through the interesting times that make up a scrap for survival from relegation.
This time of year always brings managerial changes, of course, and no amount of explaining to football club owners that the mathematics of it all – not everyone can win by a long, long way – don’t add up and that their collection of special little snowflakes have no automatic right to win anything only ever seem likely to fall upon deaf ear after deaf ear. What might West Ham United’s reasonable expectations have been in August for the end of another season in the ever-calcified Premier League? Another mid-table finish, free from the headlines including the word “CRISIS” in bold type, might have been considered reasonable, but the itchy trigger fingered club owner can always fall back upon something garbled about having “taken the club as far as he can” and the need for a “new broom” to “sweep the deadwood” from their beloved edifice.
As supporters, we have become conditioned to this sort of behaviour, and it’s unlikely that Sam Allardyce will be the last of the class of 2015 to fail to graduate with honours. Elsewhere in the Premier League, all eyes are turning towards two other managers who are currently skating on particularly thin ice. Newcastle United may have avoided relegation on the last day of the season, but the slow motion train crash which constituted the second half of their season has given a tepid last few weeks the feel of soap opera about a slow motion train crash, and John Carver, a man whose resting facial expression has over the last few weeks has not unsurprisingly been set to “furious,” is not widely expected to survive the post-Whitsun cull, particularly following his little outbursts towards both players and supporters over the last few weeks, in addition to Newcastle’s vertiginous slump down the league table since the new year and the club’s strange, When-Harry-Met-Sally-esque courtship of Steve McClaren, who has now been relieved of his responsibilities at Derby County. Such is the idiosyncrasy of owner Mike Ashley’s history with regard to managerial appointments, however, that trying to predict what the club’s next move might be is not necessarily easy.
At Liverpool, meanwhile, the cracks in Brendan Rodgers’ managerial capabilities might have been papered over by the outbreak of mawkishness which accompanied Steven Gerrard’s departure from Anfield, but those cracks are now somewhat more visible now that the final ball of the season has been kicked and a period of analysis over the season as a whole has begun. The club’s owners have restated their desire to stick with Rodgers, but football club owners have found themselves making such commitments only to repent at leisure later on countless previous occasions. There was a point during the second half of last season when it felt as if Rodgers might have cracked the riddle of how to build a consistently winning Liverpool team, but the departure of Luis Suarez for Catalan climes last summer left a gap in the team that was not wisely filled. Was one player, a talismanic yet troublesome one, really a greater influence over the fortunes of the team last season than the manager? It’s tempting to agree that he might have been. But the manager’s responsibility at any club over this sort of situation is specifically not to throw their hands in the air and disavow any responsibility for what happens afterwards. Brendan Rodgers spent lavishly last summer, and the results of this were almost uniformly uninspiring.
Of course, there’s a case that could be made for the majority of Premier League managers to be sacked at the end of this season. Manuel Pellegrini? Trophy-less season. Arsene Wenger? Yet another year without a sustained run at the Premier League title. Louis Van Gaal? Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria. The list could go on and on. But the key culprits in lists such as this aren’t the managers themselves so much as the false expectation levels pushed upon managers by the media, club owners and, yes indeed, supporters themselves. We’re ultimately all complicit in it. We all talk about the joys of stability in terms of football club management in an abstract sense, but when push comes to shove it only takes one string of bad results at just about any club before metaphorical daggers begin to be drawn. Of course, it doesn’t help that clubs frequently seem to be too timid to make truly bold decisions when appointing a new manager – hence the existence of this particular merry-go-round in the first place – but this conservatism, it might well be argued, has come about in no small part because of this culture of ever decreasing circles. Both the bold and the timid can make mistakes, but there’s a greater likelihood of the bold having their boldness thrown back at them in the event of a managerial appointment being unsuccessful.
Weep not for Sam Allardyce. He’ll be back in work again soon enough. Weep not for John Carver. A spell managing a Premier League football club on his CV should ensure that he’s not unemployable for a significant amount of time. Weep not for Brendan Rodgers. He’s probably earned more from his three years in charge of Liverpool than most of us will earn in our entire lifetimes. If there are tears to be shed over the managerial merry-go-round, we should probably reserve them for mourning the passing of a culture that was patient, which gave managers a chance to build a team over time, which placed honour at least on a par with instant success and money. In an era of twenty-four news, analysis and opinions, what we may be mourning is the passing of a bygone era. And the merry-go-round is there, perpetually spinning, shiny and bright, in its place.
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