Managing expectations…

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…

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