Godwin’s Law states that the longer a discussion goes on, the higher the chances become of a comparison involving Adolf Hitler. The purpose of this inevitable Reductio ad Hitlerum is, of course, to win the argument.
If your chosen stance is exactly the kind of attitude/wallpaper/ice cream Hitler would’ve gone for, then you’re patently only a couple of steps away from book burning and death camps, thus your opinion on felt hats of the sixteenth century are completely invalid. Nazis lose arguments.
Sir Alex Ferguson is, despite the paranoid night terrors of Roy Keane, not Adolf Hitler. But he does occupy a similar status in discussions on football management. The longer a conversation on managerial stability goes on, so the chances of a comparison involving Ferguson become inevitable. He is the trump card in any deck of examples. The cauterizing agent in any wounded argument.
The difference (apart from all the actual Nazi stuff obviously. Fergie was dead against the Lebensraum by all accounts) is that while Godwin’s Law is seen as a weak, last ditch tactic – a verbose equivalent of shouting “You smell!” and running away – Fergie’s Law is seen as a strong, front footed one. It’s trotted out by respectable people, and Tony Cascarino. It’s often supported by the equally trusted ‘Wenger’s Accompaniment’, and if the argument is really getting stretched, perhaps even a ‘Moyes’s Mooting’
The accepted wisdom of pundits, panelists and publicans alike is that sackings like AVB’s are bad, or at least bad form. Only long-term managerial stability breeds real success. If only the power hungry, finger pyramiding villains of club Chairmanship could see it.
But is this true?
Ever since Roman Abramovich swanned onto the scene with his shiny new Chelsea Toy (manager sold separately) it’s been widely assumed that his constant petulant tinkering has been counter productive. It’s only setting them back. It’s his own time he’s wasting.
But while a case can certainly be made for the first Mourinho era, the lasting effect of a sushi conveyor belt of bosses has hardly been negligent. In fact since Claudio Ranieri was dismissed in 2004, becoming ground zero for Chelsea managerial dominos, they’ve won more than Ferguson’s longevity infused Manchester United. Less League titles (3>5) but more FA Cups and European honors.
But moneyed sides like Chelsea and City are often written off in such discussions. They don’t conform to the norm. A fallacy that fails to take into account that if the money was all-important, Abramovich would’ve clearly appointed himself by now. He’d at least be the first Chelsea boss with job security.
So how have the less evil sides done without longevity? Liverpool sacked both Kenny Dalglish and Peaky the Night Owl after underwhelming short spells. A period kick started after long-term faith in Rafa Benitez had seen both their form, and him, start to unravel. They’re now doing quite well under a manager appointed 18 months ago. So to are Newcastle United since sacking Chris Hughton (a very unpopular decision back in 2010.) In fact his replacement, booed on his arrival, is now the league’s second longest serving manager. How about Swansea City? Soaring like knickers thrown at Tom Jones from League 2 obscurity to Premier League mid-table security in only six years. Surely that’s the product of good old managerial stability? Well, no. They changed their manager five times in those six years.
So what is it these clubs are missing? What wondrous, better kind of success could they enjoy if only they had faith in their managers? It’s hard to say, because Ferguson aside, even the likes of Wenger, Moyes & the mythical Dario Gradi haven’t found successful longevity a longevity of success.
You may think it a few trophies short of a cabinet to question the success of Wenger’s tenure. This, after all, is the man who took a boring, defensive side of loveable drunks and turned them into the most entertaining attacking team in the league. However, since 2004 Arsenal have gone from automatic title challengers to being perpetually scrapping for 4th. Arsene has now spent longer in the silverware wilderness than he spent in its bosom and his image has shifted from the unflappable, miraculous Professeur to a frustrated, elderly Mr. Bean, perpetually resisting metamorphosis from within his giant coat chrysalis. It’s no longer sacrilege to ponder whether the Gunners would be better off without him. He’s (almost) lived long enough to see himself become the villain.
At United, the thinking is that David Moyes should be afforded the same faith that so benefited Ferguson. This is both admirable and fluffily reassuring in a time when managerial job security is about as stable as Syrian buckaroo. But it’s also partly based on the idea that a similar security at Everton yielded increased success. This would be a very relative idea of success. A harsh critic could say he merely didn’t fail. Much like Wenger, his early years saw most of the work, turning a side of perpetual strugglers into a side of respectable middlers. But while many will point to his lack of funds, keeping England’s fifth most successful side in the top half of the table is less the impossible dream and more the plausible expectation. David Moyes, making the possible possible since 2002.
Dario Gradi, the hallowed mythical figure of ancient managerial legend failed even to bring that much vaulted stability to his beloved Crewe Alexandra in over 400 seasons in charge (70-80 as caretaker, depending on which scrolls you believe) Despite his admirable courage under financial fire, they were relegated nearly as many times as they were promoted.
Even Ol’ Big Head went down in the end. Though without him Forest slipped even further from the limelight, their star fading as if retreating into an actual forest. But then Brian Clough was an exceptional manager.
And so was Ferguson. Which makes him an uneasy standard bearer. Normality shouldn’t be judged by its exceptions. It also underestimates the magnitude of his task at United in the mid-1980s. Dragging a boozy boys club resting on their laurels kicking and screaming into the modern game, all while building a world-class youth set up from scratch. A manager coming into a well-run modern football club shouldn’t need four years to see progress. He shouldn’t really need more than two.
Such are our romantic associations with words like faith and trust and legacy, boosted tenfold by their current infrequency, that it seems sacrilege to dismiss them. And such are the negative connotations of the worst of fan opinion. The knee-jerk, pass the buck, sack the manager vitriol, boosted tenfold by the Internet and its soapbox for idiots that it feels dirty to encourage it.
But sometimes it might just be right. Not every manager is Alex Ferguson. Sometimes, you really should sack them if you’re not seeing instant progress. But then again, that’s exactly the kind of thing Hitler would say.