Who Owns the Manager in Football Today?

September 6, 2008
I'm in change

I'm in change

Three football stories from the Premier League this week raise the question of football governance. Super-wealthy new owners are inclined to establish a henchman, leaving the manager figure with an ambiguous role, perhaps approximating to that of a head coach

This arrangement creates tensions, but is arguably a decision that owners are entitled to make, for better or worse. A case of paying for the leaders they deserve.

Dominic the Blue had hardly taken up duties as Leaders we deserve insider on the Man City front when the club was thrown into the turmoil of a takeover.

Many fans were enthralled at the prospects of a conversion of the club into Middle East Land (horrible pun on their shiny new Eastlands stadium). Dominic still has the wary caution of the Blues season-ticket holder. A seasoned campaigner (end of horrible puns for the moment).

‘Who is in charge of buying players these days?’ he asked. ‘Who is the leader/manager in this respect? This is a big issue now, what with the situation at West Ham, Newcastle, as well as City. You can’t say leadership is the preserve of the Manager any more, with all the implications this has’

He has a good point

The turbulence of a week in English football was summed up by the BBC.

Keegan’s departure from Newcastle comes in a tumultuous week for English football.

On Monday, Manchester City – backed by prospective new owners the Abu Dhabi United Group – broke the British transfer record to complete the £32.5m signing of Robinho from Real Madrid from under Chelsea’s noses.

On Wednesday, Alan Curbishley beat Keegan to become the season’s first Premier League managerial casualty when he resigned from West Ham only three games in. A lack of control over transfer policy was also behind Curbishley’s decision.

Anyone but Curbishley

At West Ham it seems to as easy as ABC – [Anyone but Curbishley] as a possible replacement.

Leaders we deserve tracked the roller-coaster ride for West Ham Fans a while ago.

Remember those flirtations with relegation? The bizarre Tevez transfer arrangements? The sacking of one manager, and the arrival of the popular Curbishley? Whose popularity, it must be said, had not been matched since by on-field success. But he did snatch survival from near-certain relegation, and three weeks into a new season is a strange time for a board to decide that enough is enough.

Is there a pattern in the football dramas unfolding?

A popular view increasingly expressed, goes something like this. Football is big business. English Premiership clubs have been increasingly acquired by Foreign businessmen insensitive the cultural heartbeat of English football.

Somewhat askew to this starting point is the view that the new mega-wealthy owners are emotional and ego-driven, too inclined to interfere with operational aspects of the club’s management in search of glory and self-esteem.

The owners, in short, are falling short in terms of governance responsibilities. The result is an erosion of the role of manager to that of a coach. Leadership duties are more distributed, often with the owner’s henchmen (Dennis Wise at Newcastle, ‘undermining’ Keegan. Ironically (in view of later events at Chelsea) Avram Grant at Southampton has a similar role, to the fury of Harry Rednapp at Southampton.

I’m not so sure the story is as simple as all that. At Newcastle, the now highly unpopular owner seems to want to be loved by the fans and seen as a working man on the terraces, shirt and all. At West Ham, the egregious Eggert of Iceland fame is as emotional as Abramovitch at Chelsea is restrained. At City …well we have to wait and see. Will they seek out a celebrity coach with risk of a bust-up and clash of egos? If they can afford the world’s most expensive players, who will coach them?

Distributed leadership

In principle, the idea of splitting the roles of manager and coach can be defended according the theory of distributed leadership.

An intelligent debate can be found on the BBC webpages, which concluded

There’s an ownership and a belonging to their clubs and communities that goes way beyond the role of mere manager. This is the very essence in fact of the intense passion felt by thousands of supporters about their club, week in, week out. And certainly why there is so much fury in Tyneside at Keegan’s demise.

Well said. There will be much for Dominic and Eric to worry about, as they provide background to the City saga this year for Leaderswedeserve.