It was amazing to see Alex Ferguson speaking to the Old Trafford crowd after his final home game in charge of Manchester United on Sunday evening. Praising the fans, players and coaching staff, he declared that everyone now had to stand by ‘our’ new manager in David Moyes.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussion about the appointment in recent days (Moyes hasn’t won any trophies v Moyes ‘understands’ the Manchester United way), but the reality is that only time will tell how successful he will be.
On that front, I was surprised (and in agreement) to see Moyes being given a six-year deal at his future club. It was an important statement from United – this guy is going to get the time he needs to do things his way.
Of everything I’ve read about Fergie in the past few days, a piece entitled: ‘Sir Alex Ferguson: the eulogy, the apology and the thank you’ by The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor really stood out from the rest in terms of painting a rather different side to the Scot.
I’m not a Man Utd fan, so for me Ferguson has always been the man whose teams keep winning while all around falter (and then change manager!).
It’s an amazing statistic that Chelsea have had 18 different managers in the time that Fergie has been at Old Trafford – ten alone since the arrival of owner Roman Abramovich (Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Wilkins, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Villas-Boards, Di Matteo and Benitez), with another most likely on the way in the summer.
It seems a common thing in football to look at the manager’s position when a club enters choppy waters. They are the public face of their football clubs in many ways but there are a lot of different factors that need to be considered in the complicated formula of success, and managers are too often the ones to fall on swords in times of trouble.
Consider the situation at Wolves as another example. Dean Saunders survived just 20 games in charge of the club’s senior squad, having joined Doncaster Rovers in January. The League One side is now seeking its fifth permanent manager in less than 15 months, having sacked Mick McCarthy last February. When is that particular merry-go-round going to end and I haven’t even mentioned Blackburn Rovers…
In the midst of all the ‘shock’ about Fergie, there was one opinion I really did agree with – that of Spanish football writer Guillem Balague (below).
All too frequently managers get too much credit when they simply couldn’t function without a coaching team, club staff and supporters around them. Equally, they are singled out for criticism when there are always other factors to consider.
A football club (or national team) needs to have its priorities and objectives in order – and recruit on that basis. Giovanni Trapattoni was hired to get results and see the Rep. of Ireland senior team qualify for international tournaments, and that’s what he has done.
If club owners and football associations were clearer about their actual expectations and targets, perhaps there would be greater understanding of how well (or not) managers were actually doing?
I was delighted to travel to Antwerp in Belgium last weekend, having been asked to speak at a football governance conference in the city (more details here). The progress made in the League of Ireland, in terms of supporter involvement in the game, means that we are actually ahead of our European colleagues in many instances.
Belgium, like Ireland and every other country involved in the Improving Governance Project, has its problems but unless supporters are prepared to organise and try and make a meaningful contribution to solving issues, we may never see real changes happening – at least at grassroots level.
What is becoming more and more obvious as this project moves towards its conclusion (June 2013) is that League of Ireland clubs and supporters groups are not alone. We have many things in common with various entities around our own league and across Europe, and it’s time for us to begin working together.
I hope to get some more thoughts together over the coming days… but, first, a handbook to finish editing.
In the meantime, some pictures of Antwerp (taken with an iPhone 5 rather than my Canon) and a link to a radio piece on Fan Ownership on Newstalk that I was asked to contribute to!
When you are involved right at the heart of a football club, it’s very easy to get caught up in the nuances of the relatively minor occurrences that go on on a daily basis. When you’re hands on week in week out, it’s difficult and unlikely that you’ll take time to move a step away and reflect on the bigger picture. It is something that I had the chance to do recently – when I attended a two-day football event in Madrid – and the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.
I have been looking after an EC-funded project in Ireland entitled ‘Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership’ for a little while time now. The response within League of Ireland circles has been very encouraging and also enlightening in many different ways. Somehow the thought of clubs more actively co-operating with other football clubs does not seem the alien idea it once was.
In that Project Manager role, I was invited to speak at the FASFE event by our Spanish partners, specifically to address the importance of fan involvement in football. To everyone involved in FORAS, the early days of the trust are a story we imagine that everybody is aware of at this stage but at least one prominent chairman in the League of Ireland believed that it was set up as a takeover group until quite recently…
In fact, the initial days of the supporters trust were quite modest and even humble. Members spoke about helping the club and its then reliable owner, with a view to perhaps working towards a sharehold in the club one day in the distant future. As it was life would overtake all plans, and FORAS would become a critical part of the CCFC story from the moment of its launch in 2008.
A talented Board, with great leadership at its helm, guided the trust along a potentially hazardous path until March 5th, 2010 that a team under the banner of Cork City FORAS Co-op took to the field in the Brandywell with the hope and pride of its hundreds of owners behind them.
I retold the story of those early days to delegates from clubs all over Spain last month. For supporters worried about their club’s future and fearful of what the coming years might bring, it is heartening to know that fans have made a real difference – as the likes of AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Shamrock Rovers had inspired FORAS and Cork City FC at times.
La Liga is packed full of wonderful footballers right now. Lionel Messi is a wonder to behold and yet look beyond the glamour and Spanish football, like the country itself, is in choppy waters and heading for the eye of a huge storm.
Like sessions at the Heart of the Game conference in Ireland last year, participants heard from a variety of people all with one significant thread in common – a passion for their football club and an urgent desire to seek a more sustainable way forward. Spanish law requires that competitive sporting teams must be a limited liability corporation – a requirement that is of huge frustration to those that see the need for the game to head down a very different route.
The regional government in Valencia are involved in helping no less than three football clubs at the moment, while Deportivo de La Coruna went into voluntary administration on account of their financial woes in the last couple of weeks.
There is good stuff going on to of course – especially the emergence of clubs like CAP Ciudad de Murcia and Club Deportivo Palencia, both of which are making progress in their own way – but, like Ireland, these clubs don’t get enough support or even spotlight.
As at the Irish event, the immediate feedback was really positive. There is something hugely refreshing and motivating when you find football peers that see things the same way: they can see the urgent need for change, the importance of giving fans – as one of the game’s most significant stakeholders – a proper voice as well as the benefit of inviting fans into the inner circle not only to hear their contribution but to allow them have real input into the issues that affect them directly every week.The movement is gained momentum across Europe – assisted by the resources and time given by the hard working people at Supporters Direct Europe – but, importantly, it is also being noticed and backed by people working within UEFA and the European Commission amongst other notable organisations.
Sometimes change happens overnight in dramatic fashion; sometimes change is a persistent journey of small steps. Either way, evolution is inevitable and supporters will be part of the next chapters to come.
With only a handful of league titles up for grabs at the end of every season, why is it that supporters’ expectations seem to be only on the increase year after year?
This drive for success has seen two managers – Sean O’Driscoll (Nottingham Forest) and Henning Berg (Blackburn Rovers) – sacked in inexplicable circumstances recently, and there is no reason to believe that their successors will fare any better. (In fact, why any manager would take on a role when his predecessor has been turfed out in such a fashion in beyond me!)
Fans and players alike expressed their utter surprise at the decision to get rid of O’Driscoll – Berg’s situation at Blackburn was a little stranger – and that, in itself, is unusual. How often do we see managers bare the brunt of fans’ frustration? Liverpool anyone?
Take our own national situation where, after a number of poor performances, Giovanni Trapattoni was under pressure to justify his ongoing tenure as Ireland manager. If you appoint an aging Italian as your manager and set him the goal of qualifying for international tournaments, he is not going to suddenly go against his own grain and introduce free flowing football nor is he going to pay attention to the country’s internal football structures, which are is such bad need of love and attention.
Look at Roberto Di Matteo’s current employment status for another example. Six months after he delivered a Champions League title – albeit in somewhat fortunate circumstances – he was sacked from his position as Chelsea manager. Few people expect to see his replacement – Rafael Benitez – to last too long but why is it that the manager is seen as the thing to change when things don’t go quite as planned on the pitch?
The reality is, of course, that the manager is cheaper to replace than an entire squad of players but where would Manchester United be now had they ditched Sir Alex Ferguson at the first sign of choppy waters?
His time at Old Trafford has been far from a perfect success but the club has been well rewarded by retaining patience and faith in a man that has been the heart beat of the club for so long. His current squad are not the most talented bunch he has ever had at his disposal, and yet they continue to set the pace in this season’s Premier League despite the money that has been spent around them.
I spoke to two prominent members of the Swans Trust last month and it was amazing to hear about the journey they have travelled with their club in recent years. I lived in Cardiff for a few months during my university degree and had the pleasure of several trips down to The Vetch Field when Lee Trundle was the main star of the show.
To see them gracing the Premier League now – confident in their own brand of football and happy that they are adhering to an ethos that will see them develop further in the longer term – is heartening amidst all the stormy waters brewing at many football clubs today.
And yet how long will it be before supporters look beyond ‘just’ being part of the Premier League and want to take the next step again? There’s no reason it can’t happen in a planned and sustainable fashion of course, but showing patience and restraint with further success seemingly just out of reach is a battle many clubs face and is perhaps one of the most difficult of all to thread your way through.
Results on the pitch can be influenced by the smallest of actions or decisions. As supporters we want the very best for our club and we enjoy any success that comes our way. However, as guardians of our clubs – afterall we are THE stakeholder that will never walk away – we must also ensure that our off-field team is doing its business correctly. A team is a powerful uniting force but a football club is not solely about its team…