In the modern game, the role of a manager has drastically changed. From the days of being involved in almost every aspect of the club, you are more likely to find a new managerial appointment being described as a ‘head coach’ rather than a ‘manager’, and thus with it the indication that their role will be sufficiently limited to their efforts on the training ground and on match days, with little or no influence upon the business side of things.
Although it makes sense in the current climate of Premier League club’s becoming business and financial institutions in their own right, which operates and determines success almost completely independently to results on the pitch, my underlying concern is that the seperation of monetary issues and footballing issues has in effect taken the power of the transfer market away from those who need it most – the managers.
Whereas in the past, it was not unusual for managers to rely upon the knowledge of their coaches and their own scouting network to provide them with acceptable transfer targets, creating a consensus which would also be discussed in financial terms with the chairman, it appears more and more that the actual influence a manager has altered from having the final say, or at least their say carrying considerable weight to an overall decision, to little or no say, despite the fact that ultimately it will be the manager or head coach who will bear the full brunt of responsibility for a team’s failings.
The most promenant example which comes to mind is the story of Manchester City this season. Whilst perhaps Roberto Mancini deserves his fair share of due criticism for not getting the best out of his star-studded cast throughout their almost non-existent title defense, and similarly, at the start of the campaign, the Citizens failed to adapt to the Italian’s impractical use of a 3-5-2 formation, some blame has to be attatched to the club’s backroom officials for failing to bring in new recruits of a high enough standard in the summer.
Whilst Manchester United bought Robin van Persie, in a £20million deal that essentially handed them the Premier League title, Sporting Director Brian Marwood oversaw the purchases of Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia and Maicon. Whilst perhaps the three youngsters are prospects of the future, Javi Garcia has had a rather unceromonious and average inaugural season, whilst Maicon appears to be firmly into his twilight years.
The fact is, none of these players, excluding Nastasic, possess the current ability to be holding down a regular first team place, or keep the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva, or even Gareth Barry, on their toes in fear of losing their slots in the starting XI, whilst no additions were made up front, despite Mario Balotelli’s future being in doubt for some time, and the Italian finally imploding his own City career by January.
Mancini has openly discussed how he has felt let down by those in control of the club’s transfers in press conferences this season, as reported by the Daily Mail. The Italain stated at the end of the summer after being quizzed by reporters about a lack of transfer activity; “These questions you should ask other people. I don’t know what I can say. After three or four months… nothing. You should talk to Brian Marwood for this.’Not me. Talk to Marwood please… No I’m not happy. I don’t want to say anything at the moment. For me we have a good team. But we need to continue to improve.”
Despite his glaring indication of disappointment, it is Mancini’s job which is currently being scrutinised and held up for review in the British media, and no doubt also behind closed doors.
It’s a similar story at Newcastle; this season, the Magpies have shifted from the Premier League’s overachievers to the top-flight’s most underperfoming team.Although I am not a fan of Alan Pardew, and I believe many of the club’s poor showings this year can be attributed to his failings as a manager in terms of tactics, motivation and understanding of his opponents, he has been by no means helped by Mike Ashley and Graham Carr – whom share a power vacuum over transfers which excludes the former Charlton and West Ham boss – who brought in just one summer signing in Vernun Anita, despite Newcastle having one of their most hectic and fixture-filled seasons to date with their qualification and involvement in the Europa League.
But, considering the finer details, perhaps it is more understandable. Even Alan Pardew’s biggest fan would admit that his knowledge of European football, and thus his pool of sourcing new signings, is sufficiently lacking, with the majority of his purchases at former clubs coming from the lower tiers of the English leagues.
Similarly, despite being offered an eight year contract by Mike Ashley, it would take a brave man to bet on Pardew seeing out its full tenure, and separating transfers from footballing duties at least creates some longevity and stability in the club’s overall transfer policy, which counteracts the managerial merry-go-round of hiring and firing that has encompassed English football in recent years.
As well as the culture of managerial appointments being an underlying factor in removing transfers from a head coaches’ sphere of influence, another is the rise in power of the modern owner. Whereas in the past, owner’s may have had the power to veto specific transfers on grounds of it being financially impractical, it has now become the norm for owners and chairmen to be directly involved in sourcing players, with the most obvious example being Roman Abramovich.
The club’s inability to hold on to a manager for more than a matter of months has given the Russian billionaire free reign in terms of bringing in players, which has no doubt been a factor in Fernando Torres’s torrid £50million move to Stamford Bridge. Whilst to a businessman and a football fan, the move may have made sense, in practical terms the Spaniard was never the perfect fit for a team based around organisation, physique and stability. Furthermore, he was never Carlo Ancelotti’s signing, and he was never Andre Villas-Boas’s signing, he was the owner’s signing.
I fear their recent purchase of Andre Schurrle will suffer a similar fate. Despite it being just two months away from the end of the season, by which time Chelsea should have appointed a new manager to replace the outgoing Rafa Benitez, the club’s officials have brought in a new recruit, without even considering the implications for their new head coach. It may be quite simply that he is not preferred by the future Blues boss, and thus, the club will face another battle between success on the pitch and actual financial investment; the same dilemma which lead to Torres becoming horrendously over-played, despite his poor form.
In the modern game, there are several deviations from the past that due to the rise in the business side of the game, one most accept, despite presenting relatively little business sense or defying the traditional logic of how a club should be run. However, whereas in some cases, the seperation of transfers and first team duties can be of benefit, due to the limited attributes of a particular coach in terms of their prowess in the transfer market, overall I believe it has sufficiently weakened the position of managers in the Premier League.
It limits them from installing their own vision upon the club, and furthermore, presents the opportunity for a rift to develop between a head coach and club officials, such as Sporting Directors. It can create a contrast in views that if left unresolved can result in a team’s eventual demise, and I believe it contributes more to the hire and fire culture than it does alleviate the risk from an owner’s perspective. More trust should be given to managerial appointments in the transfer market, or else they must stop being held fully accountable for their team’s failings.