By Tony Attwood
“Football is fickle” is an old phrase. And an apt one. It used to be that one season your club could be great, then next rubbish. Then it was one month to the next, then one week to the next, then one day to the next.
Now the chances are that unless your club is top of the league, your club is rubbish. It is true of Arsenal as much as Exeter or Accrington. If we are not top, its not good enough. Screw the future, I want success and I want it now.
The game now is that of attacking managers, as if they can wave a magic wand and turn everything around, which of course they can’t. But worse, there is no evidence that changing one manager for another works – and yet that is what these “fans” demands, and what the club owners give them. Just look at the clubs with their new managers and see how often it works. Roughly around 5% of new managers deliver the success demanded.
(Actually it is now getting even tougher, since the new rules of the game are that winning the FA Cup is no longer “success”).
Changing managers is now like betting on horse racing. As everyone who studies gambling technique (rather than the “form”) knows that the one way to win on horse racing is to choose to bet on (for example) the horse with the name that is first in the alphabet among the runners, and place a £1 bet. If that horse doesn’t win, do the same for the next race with a £2 bet. If that horse doesn’t win, do the same again next time with a £4 bet. Eventually the horse with the name which is first in the alphabet will come in and you’ll get all your money back and a profit. All you have to do is hold your nerve.
So eventually you get a manager who wins stuff. But that is not the way to guarantee the sort of instant success that so many fans now want – they don’t want to win the next race. They want to win this race and every race, and then do it again. And changing managers doesn’t do that.
Which is why attacking managers is not about success for the club – it is about being abusive, vicious and nasty. It is a form of bear baiting and it is defended in the same way that bear baiting was defended when it was legal. In 1800 an attempt was made to outlaw that “sport” and our prime minster George Canning said, “the amusement [of bear baiting] inspired courage and produced a nobleness of sentiment and elevation of mind”.
Any day now you’ll hear a journalist say the same about manager baiting.
The fact is that manager baiting does as much for the manager’s ability to manage as bear baiting did for the bear’s ability to live a natural life and enjoy the woodlands.
And the comparison between bear baiting and manager baiting is correct, because both have their ring where it all takes place. With the manager it is the “technical area” where they are put on show – and the abuse is hurled.
To show that manager baiting doesn’t actually improve a club’s performance, consider this: if we take Mr Wenger out of the calculations, the average length of time of a manager in a job in the Premier League it is just a trifle over a year – which may be fun for the baiters, but doesn’t do much for stability.
Of course the journalists love this manager-baiting, and stoke it up, pretending always to be “just reporting what is going on” but in fact endlessly encouraging the situation by deciding to make the key news. After all who decides that a tiny bunch of men at the WBA game holding up a banner is worthy of news, compared with, say, the performance of the ref, or why the PGMO is so secret, or why refs don’t have videos? The journalists and their editors decide, just as their colleagues in TV studios decide that time wasting is not news but a player trotting back after messing up a shot is news.
So what is going on?
The most obvious explanation of all this is that supporters baiting managers is cheap and easy news. The “foul-mouthed rant” as the expression beloved of journalists goes, can take up half a page and give you a story before opening time. Why do your job when an idiot supporter gives you what the editor will accept?
But why do “supporters” (I use the word loosely) get so angry with managers and demand their departure, when all the evidence is that bringing in a new man rarely does any good?
The answer seems to be that people in England are getting more and more angry generally, probably because we have veered to a society in which social mobility has declined rather than (as is the express aim of our government) increased. The notion that Britain has a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich is not a view that everyone shares, but through most of the current government 18 of the 23 full-time members of the cabinet are millionaires, having between them a capital wealth of about £50 million. With the destruction of the economy by the banking sector, so famously liberated by M. Thatcher with her “big bang” policy, this combination left most of us finding it hard to better themselves.
In earlier times there might well have been a popular uprising against such a manifestly unfair economic policy as is currently operated, but through careful manipulation of the situation, football, like tweeting and blogs, has become a way for people to be angry both without suffering any consequences, and without actually damaging the politicians, bankers and economists who create the conditions.
This approach is aided by the psychotic position of the journalists – commenting negatively on the “foul-mouthed rant” (which must surely be the journalistic phrase of 2014) while revelling in this endless source of back page news found without effort.
So the more the “supporters” whine and attack, the more unstable the club becomes, and the more the journalists can complain, and so the more the “supporters” are encouraged to whine and attack.
Today the story is the decline and fall of Liverpool and Arsenal. The reason for each being lower in the league than at this time last year is simple – Arsenal for a catastrophic run of injuries for Liverpool the story is that last season they let Suarez run the show, but were unable, like Arsenal, to persuade new players of the highest quality to come in and take his place.
With Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Koscielny, and Ozil in the team we can stamp our authority on any opposition, without two or three of them we still stand a fair chance. Without all five we struggle; it isn’t a mystery. And we don’t have perfect backups in each case, because players of that quality who are absolutely ready to step into the team, won’t come along and be backups. They expect first team places.
But the press can’t be doing with this sort of story, so they continue the “players as meat” approach in which Arsenal could have any player it wanted, if only Wenger wasn’t so mean with other people’s money, or so lazy.
Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy have been solid and sound players developing into the team – and if anything like the full team had been available to allow them to play their way in, we’d have seen even more from them. As it is we have the Telegraph saying that players like Debuchy have “blown hot and cold and offered little evidence to suggest they can provide the links that have now been missing for the best part of 10 years.” Perhaps didn’t notice that he was injured.
How does football end the cycle of abuse, departure, appointment, abuse, departure? How do we end the stoking of the anger of “fans” that fuels this cycle, by the journalists who can’t believe their luck that the story is written for them day by day?
Writing the alternative view of the need for stability and support on blogs like this, while trying to expose the insanity of the PGMO, and the appalling actions of journalists and their mindless allies is just about the only route I can think of – while trying endlessly to point out that the abuse, departure, appointment, abuse cycle is one that just leads to more and more instability. Maybe there is an alternative, but I just can’t see it.
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