Champions League football. At the time it seemed ridiculous, and now it seems completely absurd.
Charlton fans always liked a good moan, but every club has a group of fans that constantly want more. The problem is that the average beer-bellied football fan has little concern for the other side of the game – the off-pitch finances, boardroom constraints and long-term implications of running a football club.
Fans aren’t as powerful as they used to be and with the influx of billionaire owners in the form of Russian oligarchs, cash-rich Sheikhs and members of the Asian upper class, the wishes of fans are often overlooked to make ruthless business decisions. But fan power should not be so readily dismissed. Fans can make or break a manager overnight, and even with the backing of the board, still have the ability to leave any member of their club to continue their career on borrowed time.
Everyone’s favourite fall-guy Steve Kean is a perfect example of that. Kean quickly became the butt of every football joke going during Blackburn’s relegation campaign last season, but what didn’t help the Scotsman is a sheer lack of support from fans. The Blackburn faithful took poorly to Kean, probably due to the fact most of what comes out of his mouth in post-match interviews is verbal diarrhoea and often a very warped view of what has just happened on the pitch, not to mention the fact Kean seemed to have very little grasp of tactics. Looking back on it, maybe they had a point. Kean’s management credentials included being in charge of Coventry reserves and…well, that’s it.
Also he announced the “very real” prospect of signing Ronaldinho, and said about David Goodwillie: “David’s always been put on a par with a young Rooney and he can certainly score all types of goals… It’s not just nice tap-ins, he can create a goal for himself, score from outside the box, chip them in, pass them in, smash them in.” I could sum up David Goodwillie in much fewer words.
The humorous gift of Kean’s career that keeps on giving aside, Blackburn fans made Kean’s position untenable, despite starting well in the Championship this season. Flags and banners saying “get Uncle Fester out” are hardly good for a team’s morale, and pressure from fans finally took its toll on a man who appeared indestructible to constant wisecracks and criticism during his time in the Premier League. When you look at Blackburn’s squad however, did Kean, or any manager for that matter, have a chance of staying up? Apart from some fanTastic performances from Yakubu, Rovers were seriously lacking in all departments, and at least Kean was a cheaply-paid loyal lapdog.
The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo is another example. Cheeky Italian legend out, former Liverpool manager and Chelsea hate-figure in, it is understandable why the fans are annoyed. But, where would Chelsea be without Roman Abramovich? Possibly bankrupt, possibly relegated, probably rubbish and they would never have got rid of Jesper Gronkjaer. Rafa Benitez was greeted in his first home match against Manchester City with a frosty reception to say the least, but the former Liverpool boss did manage to get a point from the league champions, it is unknown whether Di Matteo would have been able to do the same. The Italian may have been a fan favourite, but from a financial point of view, the knock-out stages of the Champions League are a must for a club like Chelsea.
Unless Benitez manages to win the Champions League, the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Strictly Come Dancing this year it is unlikely he will keep his job past the end of the season not only because Abramovich throws away his new toys almost as quickly as he signs them, but also because the Spanish scouser has minimal support from the fans.
The problem is that there are two sides to the footballing world. Even the most hardcore of fans would find it difficult to cry with joy because their club finished 14th in the Premier League and managed to avoid a relegation battle all season, but for certain clubs, can they truly expect any better? For many teams, the prospect of breaking-even probably calls for a round of champagne in the boardroom as they wipe the fear of administration off their sweaty brows.
Fans want more and they always will. Mancini and City fans continually moan that the team needs another striker, as they beg their Sheikh owners for the £48million to meet Falcao’s release clause. But they already have four top level strikers, and the club’s owners have spent over £900million since taking over. Much of the money has been wasted; Wayne Bridge, Roque Santa Cruiz for example. They should have donated it all to a Donkey Sanctuary instead of filling up the reserves.
Football fans will never see the whole picture; they only get an hour and a half performance to judge their team on. Always wanting more is a problem. It pushes the board into rash investment, leads to the sacking of managers and the demise of footballers. But the football world is changing, and keeping a club alive financially is becoming ever-the-more important; unfortunately, watching your club is more exciting than reading through their accounts.
In my opinion, fan power is on the demise, and perhaps for the better. It’s all well and good getting into Europe, or signing a £20million striker as the fans demand progress, but in fact, most fans should be happy to have their club in the Premier League without fearing bankruptcy.
Too much expectation only adds to extra pressure. Alan Pardew said Newcastle were set for a top five finish at the start of the season, but I think he’d probably be happy with a finish above the bottom five – not that the fans would be content with that mind you.