Success vs Legacy: Clubs And Managers Are Undermining Stability

Pep Guardiola, the new-gen manager

Pep Guardiola’s decision to step down as the Head Coach of FC Barcelona at the end of the 2011-12 season took the footballing fraternity by storm. After all, it had only been four years since he had taken over from the charismatic Frank Rijkaard – and had perfected the system of Total Football, which, in various forms, has been in practice at the club over the past several decades. One might wonder what the thought process behind the decision was – clearly, someone who has a fair shout at being called one of the greatest managers in the history of the club did not quit because he failed his duties! The case becomes even more interesting, considering that he returns to football a year later, to take over Europe’s new superpower, Bayern Munich. Maybe, as Bela Guttman said, it’s about the three-year cycle, after which one’s opponents work out one’s weaknesses.

ai???The third year is fatal. If a manager stays at a club more than that, his players tend to become bored and complacent and opponents start to work out counter-strategies. There are occasional exceptions, especially in weaker leagues, but at the highest level it seems to hold true that great teams last a maximum of three years.ai???

Or maybe it’s something else – Something deeper, something less visible, but more prominent; something about new-age managers, something about the changing face of football – of loyalties, of changing methodologies, and last but not the least, of success and glory. In an earlier article, I had stressed on how football tactics is moving from being ideology-driven to being success-driven. And at the crux of the revolution are the younger, new-gen managers who do not rely on just their experience to fine tune their sides and turn them into well-oiled winning machines.

Changing times, changing managers

Managers, much like players, today have moved on from the era wherein loyalty and pride were the prime motivation as opposed to success and money – wherein staying on at a club and building a legacy that would stand the test of time was more important than winning all the trophies in a jiffy. Longevity is a much underrated aspect in gauging a modern-day manager. Jose Mourinho, who has won the league in four different nations, is already considered one of the greatest coaches ever, but Arsenal fans would swear by their Dennis Bergkamp shirts that he’s not a patch of Arsene Wenger.

The reason for this is that Mourinho hasn’t stayed at a club long enough to see them through their tough times. Maybe he would have at Chelsea, if not for the intervention of the Russian owner, Roman Abramovic – but that is a subjective argument. Considering he has returned to Chelsea this season, the argument becomes even more interesting. Andre Villas-Boas jumped ship to Chelsea in a world record deal after a season in which Porto dominated the Portuguese League and the Europa League. A comparison to the most revered managers in the history of the game should put things into perspective. Bill Shankly and Herbert Chapman won few trophies as managers between them – yet are considered the greatest managers ever of Liverpool and Arsenal respectively, ahead of their more illustrious counterparts Bob Paisley and Arsene Wenger by many fans.

Recent cases in big leagues

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement after more than 26 fateful years at Old Trafford, the media and pundits were quick to heap praises on him not only for his success, but also for his motivation and drive, not only to take, but to also keep Manchester United where it belonged – at the top of the football pyramid. He was called “one of the last few of a dying breed of managers”; the breed which believes in more than just money and glory, the breed which played football to win, but also understood that there is something far deeper about management than success.

In David Moyes, Manchester United may have found a similar replacement, as Arsene Wenger is the only current manager who has survived longer at a Premier League club. David Moyes may not have had the best of starts at Manchester United with the club hovering at 7th position in Premier League, but the fact that the owners have chosen long term stability over instant success shows that at least some of the old traditions remain at the Theatre of Dreams. Ajax gave club legend Frank de Boer his first stint as a club manager in 2010 and have been reaping benefits ever since, especially with him turning down an opportunity to manage Liverpool when Kenny Dalglish stepped down. But not all clubs or managers are so fortunate.

Bayern Munich has replaced Jupp Heynckes, the FIFA Coach of the Year, with Pep Guardiola, who is clearly not looking for a long stint. Leonardo, who replaced the long serving Carlo Ancelotti at Milan was fired not too soon after. Rafael Benitez, who took over from Jose Mourinho right after the treble, was unceremoniously shown the door halfway through the season. Most big clubs seem to be moving that way – Bayern Munich has had 4 coaches in the last 6 years, Barcelona has had a different head coach in each of the last 3 seasons, Inter has had 6 managers in the last 4 years and Real Madrid seem to be juggling managers according to the whims and fancies of the top management.

Why stability helps

Success vs Legacy: Clubs And Managers Are Undermining Stability

Sir Alex Ferguson (left) and Arsene Wenger (right) have seen their clubs through it all

Every manager has a set of philosophies that he would like to develop at the club he is at the helm of ai??i?? some are achievable in the short term, while most take a little longer to execute. For the team to play a certain way, in the short term, players who suit the system could be bought, but in the long term, the coaching methods need to be adapted right from the junior level to develop relevant skills in the academy players. The scouting and analysis systems, style of player management, etc. varies from manager to manager.

With frequent changes in managers, clubs are leaving themselves susceptible to instabilities arising out of systemic changes. The players never get to settle into a particular style of training and play, scouting systems often need overhaul and the academy does not prosper due to change in style and personnel. It is no wonder that academies have progressed when the coaches have stayed at the club for longer than 5 years, or the management has taken proactive measures to sustain a style at the club; Manchester United under Alex Ferguson and Arsenal under Arsene Wenger are examples of the former, while Barcelona and Ajax are examples of the latter.

What the future holds

Football is slowly moving away from a system of a manager being the all-powerful entity at a club to a more structured approach as in Major League Baseball, with a Director of Football, Chief Scout and the Club Director/President having decision making powers in what was conventionally a domain handled by the Manager. This is aimed at providing more stability to the club in the present era. Having said that, the manager still remains the central figure around all the club activities revolve.

Jurgen Klopp is probably the last of an era of managers who become synonymous with the club in terms of creating a legacy for themselves, with his uncanny management of Borussia Dortmund which took the club to back to back Bundesliga titles. While Frank de Boer, Brendan Rodgers and Antonio Conte look like they will remain with their respective clubs for the foreseeable future, if they would move on to greater challenges after success or if the clubs will still show trust in them in case they fail is yet to be seen. As long as success in terms of trophies remains the main aim for clubs and managers, stability takes a back seat. Whether Bill Shankly or Herbert Chapman would have survived in this era at the great clubs they built is something that could be debated on.

Kiran
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