By Paul Hinks
A reflection on the demise of Sam Allardyce as England manager
The slaying of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe on or around the 1st July 2015 brought dismay and outrage around the world. Cecil the Lion had been tracked and killed by an American trophy hunter. Wounded initially by a bow and arrow just outside the boundary and protection of a national park, Cecil’s fate was unfortunately a formality. A tragic tale.
There was a strong negative response to the killing of Cecil – an easy target, seen by many as a completely unnecessary act. The debate around the ethics of big-game trophy hunting was well and truly set alight. In some sad way, Cecil’s demise and legacy may have brought some good.
The Guardian captured the sentiment well:
The outrage associated with Cecil reflects a shift in values that could be used to mount public support not just for lions, but also for wildlife conservation more generally. “This is a moment,” the researchers write, “not to be squandered, and one which might have the potential to herald a significant shift in society’s interaction with nature.”
Hyenas turn on Big Sam
Change of context, and fast forward to 27th September 2016. Newly appointed England Manager Sam Allardyce is 67 days in to the job.
Big Sam had previously achieved relative success at less fashionable clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and West Ham Utd, using scientific and creative methods.
Sam had delivered results that exceeded the expectations of most followers – now Sam had landed his dream job. He was the manager of the England Football team – the perennial underperformers.
Then disaster struck. With one victory to his name, and 67 days into his tenure, Sam’s fate was also sealed. As the BBC reported, Sam had made a catastrophic error of judgement:
Sam Allardyce has left his post as England manager by mutual agreement with the Football Association after one match and 67 days in charge.
It follows a newspaper investigation claiming he offered advice on how to “get around” rules on player transfers. Allardyce, 61, is also alleged to have used his role to negotiate a deal worth £400,000 to represent a Far East firm.
Perhaps like Cecil, Sam was an easy target
Sam was the victim of an elaborate journalistic sting where Sam unwittingly compromised his position by ‘speaking off the record’ – suggesting he had knowledge of how FA rules on player ownership could be circumvented. Sam was captured on film using hidden cameras speaking openly of ways to sidestep the FA’s rules and governance. A breach of trust and a betrayal of confidence by Sam in his new employers. In brief summary – a serious error of judgement on Sam’s behalf.
In any senior leadership position there is simply no such thing as ‘off the record’. Communication of any type, with anyone, in any context must be viewed as if it’s going to be broadcast everywhere and anywhere. Sam had been trapped, the game was over – or in his words “entrapment won”.
Ethics and Public Interest
The English press has a history of targeting those who are in the ‘hot seat’ of English football. They may claim they’re just doing their job and operating in the public’s interest – but evidence suggests the press will display dogged tenacity and traits similar to Hyenas in hunting their prey to get their prized story. For them, the England manager is fair game.
Like Cecil, perhaps Sam was an easy target for those who had personal agendas to satisfy. In some ironic way Sam’s demise may promote further reflection and reform within The FA, foster change and deliver some longer term benefit?
The FA’s judgement and risk assessment have been proven to be miles apart in their appointment of Sam in the first instance. Surely this needs to be addressed moving forward? The FA are the gatekeepers to the global game. They have been seriously embarrassed; the reputation of the English game itself has been tarnished and damaged. The FA need to take steps to prevent the re-occurrence of similar events in the future.
The England Manager is the symbolic leader of English football, and ambassador to the values endorsed by the English Football Association. Uncompromising integrity and verifiable strong leadership must become mandatory criteria for the selection of future England Managers.
Sure the Hyenas eyed their prey, snared Sam and displaced another England Manager. We must now hope that the FA reflect on the situation and adapt, and learn from the experience so that some kind of benefit can be delivered out of a truly sad situation.
Acknowledgement to Tudor and Susan for their valuable thoughts, discussion and contribution.
The coverage of Team GB’s successes in the 2016 Olympics makes a fascinating case example of a cultural shift from the legendary British stiff upper lip to an embrace of emotional reactions to change. It may also help understand the persistence of charismatic leaders and their unconditional acceptance by cult-like followers
I believed, like many others, that taking performance-enhancing drugs was a problem for a minority of people in a minority of sports. It is increasingly clear that I have been in a state of denial for many years
Like some hideous conspiracy project, the extent of the problem is revealing itself more and more.
“What do you think about [****] ?” Someone asked me yesterday. He was referring to one of the high-profile cases in a sport he knew I was interested in.
“Unfortunate” I said uneasily. “A career ruined”
“… and [****]?” He mentioned another sporting superstar whose name is a global brand.
“There have been accusations for some years” I admitted. “But some people are looking at exceptional performances as proof of drug-taking. ”
Within hours, another story broke
‘Inverting the pyramid: A history of football tactics’ was written by football journalist Jonathan Wilson. It was published when Jose Mourinho was in his first spell as manager of Chelsea This review, unpublished at the time, has been updated as part of a study of Jose’s second spell at Chelsea
For the second time in recent history, Chelsea Football Club have parted company with their most successful manager of all time: Jose Mourinho. The leadership style of the self-proclaimed Special One invites closer inspection.
Mourinho has often been referred to as charismatic – but what happens when charisma is not enough? when the leader fails to take others with them?
The Reality of Success
By the time Mourinho had left Chelsea “by mutual agreement” on Thursday [17 December 2015] Chelsea were just above the Premier League relegation zone. They had lost 9 games already in their latest campaign, compared with just 3 games in the whole of the previous season.
This was not the form of a team capable of successfully defending their title – indeed this was unchartered territory for Chelsea who had previously successfully challenged for both domestic and European honours under the ownership and guidance of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea’s lowly position in the Premiership table was unexpected. Most commentators struggled to explain how a squad of players could falter so spectacularly in such a short period of time.
Perhaps success was not a formality after all?
Big players, Big money, Big reputations
For those unfamiliar with football, Jose Mourinho reputation precedes him. He is a world class football coach who’s consistently delivered success at some of the world’s top football clubs.
This track record of success at different clubs provides some evidence to help validate opinion that ‘Jose’ is the ‘Special One’ – a man with some ‘magic mystical ingredient’ that helps delivers success.
With the big stage comes the big personalities and the challenge of managing big player egos – the dilemmas associated with player self-interest and hidden agendas – players and their agents who may want to engineer a lucrative transfer to another club to invoke lucrative sign-on fees?
Or perhaps footballers wives and girlfriends who would prefer to shop and live in a more cosmopolitan and glamorous city?
The footballing landscape manifests unusual and perhaps unique situations that can make the life very complex and adds unwanted pressure.
Power versus Leadership
Speculation and rumours of tensions in the Chelsea dressing room suggest Jose has had serious difficulties this season. was already on the back foot. The tipping point was the defeat that Mourinho and Chelsea suffered playing away to unlikely Premiership leaders Leicester City on Monday 14th December 2015 – ultimately a catalyst for Mourinho and Chelsea to part-company.
The Daily Mail provided insight:
When Jose Mourinho returns to work on Wednesday, he will be confronted by a group of grumbling Chelsea players who are far from happy with his scathing post-match analysis at Leicester City.
Mourinho’s use of the word ‘betrayal’ to describe John Terry and Kurt Zouma’s defensive lapse when Jamie Vardy scored in the 34th minute at the King Power Stadium stripped the dressing room of its dignity.
He has lost these players now, destroying their self-esteem in his criticism of the champions, either publicly or privately. It is a toxic dressing room now.
Mourinho’s standards are high. He expects the best from his players. During press conferences Mourinho has previously referred to his team, or individuals’ in his team, as ‘Champions’. An example of how Mourinho’s emotional intelligence is always engaged. Equally when things aren’t going so well, Mourinho’s style falters.
So when the results are not going his way so the inquiry and inevitable speculation starts in to what has gone wrong with the Special One’s charismatic ways?
Hero to Zero?
Mourinho’s very public clash with Dr Eva Carneiro was a critical moment in Mourinho’s 2015 Chelsea season and a good starting point for analysis.
The Telegraph was one of many news agencies that reported on how the Chelsea doctor had rushed on to the pitch to treat an injured Chelsea player (Eden Hazzard) when Chelsea played Swansea on 8th August 2015.
In the end, Dr Carneiro left Chelsea FC, but the damage was done. Mourinho’s misjudgement and mishandling of a single event was a pivotal moment in Mourinho’s recent period in charge.
What next for Jose?
Mourinho’s teams have consistently delivered success in silverware, the currency that fans and owners of football clubs crave most. for: silverware. Mourinho is a successful football coach in commercial terms. However, with continued success comes the increased weight of expectation. On closer inspection Jose also can be seen to leave behind a less than healthy legacy in human terms.
But the signs are that Jose may be out, but certainly not finished. The words of another charismatic, come to mind. “I’ll be back”.