The Sack Race – Roy, Carlo et all have a right to moan…to an extent

Anyone who found themselves surprisingly less than enthralled by the sight of Manchester City blocking their way to a point at the Emirates may have caught avid Gooner Dara O’Briain and Red Devil Rock-Physicist Professor Brian Cox trading football quips on Scientastic astronomy fest Stargazing Live over on BBC2. During one particularly fascinating sequence of an Astronaut garbed in full space gear gravity training in a pool, Prof Cox casually declared  that he’d “done that…to an extent.” to which my first thought was, “well yes, so have I…to an extent.” I’ve been in a pool, so to an extent, I’ve done that too.

With this in mind I’ve realised during the course of writing these blogs that I moan quite a lot. I’m not sure whether this is simply an inevitable product of aging, something deeply disturbed and curmudgeonly about myself, or the unshakable truth that everything actually is slightly worse than it was when I was twelve, but I definitely moan quite a lot more these days. In this regard I think I’d make a good manager, to an extent. I’d be rubbish at all the managerial things. I hate telling people what to do for a start and I get bored and give up very easily. Neither are really things preferably desirable in potential managers I feel but neither would be things the extent of my managerial goodness would extend to. Tactical astuteness might be a problem as well, but I’d be very good at telling my team how rubbish they’d been in colourful and inventive language. I’d also be brilliant at telling the press how awful modern football – and life for that matter – is, and how unfair, unbalanced and against me everything seemed so surely to be. So to an extent, I’d make a great manager. But almost exclusively to the extent of moaning about it.

The difference is that I have little genuine reason for my moaning beyond a vague sense of entitlement and a constant feeling of lethargy. Managers on the other hand have a torrid time of it. In fact as far as I’m concerned they can all quite legitimately moan to their heart’s content considering the constant barrage of abuse and buck stopping judgmental condemnation they endure on an almost weekly basis. They put their reputations in the hands of the players, and if the players balls it up, it’s the manager who gets it in the neck. Wayne Rooney wasn’t sacked for not scoring from open play in 9 months. Peter Crouch wasn’t fired for not being able to head a ball despite being 9ft 8. Even the bafflingly perma-tanned Alan Hansen (honestly, where does he think we think he’s going?) used the latest Match of the Day to claim he “didn’t have the bottle” to go into management, and quite rightly so. It seems only the masochistic would want to and as we enter a new year and a new transfer window, the sack race is well and truly on for four prominent Premier League figures.

As I write this, glued to the groundhog day like monotony of 24 hour sports news, not quite sure if I’ve drifted into another day or not, Gerard Houllier has earned a reprieve and Carlo Ancelotti seems certain to keep his job until the next time Roman Abramovich steps on a pin and decides he needs to punish one of his underlings. Greater worry though will be felt in Liverpool and London where Roy Hodgson and Avram Grant will both count themselves lucky to still be in work by the close of play this evening..

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While Hodgson may hold the distinction of looking the least like a frog (but most like an Owl) of any of the quartet, he may also hold the least sympathy amongst his own fan base with the knives already so sharp on Merseyside you could carve a Turkey (or an Owl) there before you even got it home. Whether he keeps his job or not (and I’m making this as ambiguous as possible for quick editing purposes) his reign has never felt fully embraced at Anfield, and it’s hard to see anything happening to ease his troubles or see him enjoy the kind of fawning adulation his predecessor Rafa Benitez did with sections of the Kop, an adulation which saw his bizarre capitulation glossed over by many. But Benitez at least had history and even Woy’s own mother would find it hard to claim he’s done anything resembling a good job there, but it must be held in account that the situation was hardly anything like ideal when he arrived. In fact much like Baron Von Grant Back at West Ham, he was brought in to stop the rot more than bring instant success, something that – again like Grant – he’s failed to do, but something which has been largely forgotten when the reasons for wanting him out are raised. Unlike Mark Bright, who went on a good old-fashioned radio tirade against the “deluded” Liverpool fans gunning for his head, I do actually think they deserve a manager befitting their historical status. However they shouldn’t blast Hodgson for not being that man. Yes success was hoped for, but with the money troubles, poor squad depth, low moral and countless injuries he’s inherited and contended with since arriving, the primary objective was stabilisation. Those claiming he was never good enough are getting a bit ahead of themselves. The best managers, like the best players, want to play in the Champions League. Hodgson wasn’t brought in to win them that, so not being someone who can isn’t an accusation you can really level at him. Liverpool finished 7th last year, the same or above that should be the aim right now, and with the season we’re having he could well achieve it. At least give him a full year to try surely?

The vocal minority calling for Dalglish would also do well to remember all the other times an old hero was brought back to rescue their floundering club. I can’t recall a supremely successful instant (though I’m sure there must be some) but the returning failures of Messiah Kev, Howard Kendall and even Sir Matt Busby for one season in 1970 all stand out and as testament to idea a returning great is never a sure thing, and often a dodgy one.

But if Hodgson was to go, it couldn’t really be argued that it wasn’t deserved, and certainly not by the modern standards of football management where even hugely popular managers are sacked by Chairman with eyes bigger than their mouths. Such is the way these days that any manager bar Ferguson could be out by tomorrow morning and none would seem too far fetched a surprise. Ancelotti’s job is still in question despite being the reigning League and FA Champion, holding the full support of his players (as evidenced by England’s Lion ™ John Terry’s celebration on Sunday) and clearly rattled by the enforced (read needless meddling) departure of Butch Uncle Fester. Anyone who seriously wants him out lives at knee-jerk towers, just off lack of perspective lane, a glorious shrine to the here and now where any notion of the near-recent past is consigned to the golden encrusted truffle bins.

One of the most annoying sights of the Christmas period – Lucas and Walliams in drag again aside – was the improved form of Newcastle and Blackburn. Both teams jettisoned decent, well liked and successful (relative to their outside perception) bosses for reasons many felt were unjust and arrogant. With all the greatest will in the world to both, many neutral fans wanted them karmically punished for such bad practice but their good form only goes to bolster the idea that changing a manager on a knee-jerk whim after half a season is a viable and often profitable exercise. This will have been the thinking in at least some corners of the board room at Villa, West Ham, Liverpool and Chelsea today, and it seems like yet another reason why only the masochistic would want to bother themselves with it. Why should they stress over their work only to have their livelihood decided by chicken farmers and porn magnates? I mean why the hell would you? And if you did, you’d be moaning like mad in every interview too. Course you would. And to that extent, you’d probably make a really great manager.


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