The managerial merry-go-round is in full swing, even during the close season, and that’s just one of the reasons Peter Lorimer avoided the step up.
It’s a fact of football that 95 per cent of managers are destined for the sack at some stage in their careers. The timing of their exit usually depends on the success of their tenure but only a select few coaches are truly safe in the long term.
I never fancied management. The pressures and pitfalls of that particular job were always clear to me and I took the view early on that the instability of running a senior team at a professional outfit was a pretty thankless task. It’s not an opinion I’ve seriously questioned.
Take a look at the workings of the English leagues over the past month – in that time, we’ve seen almost as many managerial changes as we have player transfers. We’ve not had a day this week without a departure, an approach or a new appointment, and there will be more to come before the new season starts. I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to take on a job in the knowledge that your fate is only partially in your hands.
When I went to play with Vancouver in the 1980s, I had a brief experience of coaching as assistant to Johnny Giles. That was as far as it went for me.
Johnny, like a fair few of the Don Revie class, fancied a go at management and did a sound job at West Bromwich Albion between 1975 and 1977. But stories of his time at the Hawthorns removed any lingering interest I had in stepping from the pitch to the dug-out and putting myself at the mercy of club executives.
In those days, the structure of the average football club was very different to how it is now. You had a proper board of directors who met once a week and grilled their manager about the job he was doing. Clearly, a number of directors were men who knew football inside out. But back then a fair few of them knew absolutely nothing – friends of friends who had a bit of cash and fancied the prestige of being involved. I know from speaking to Johnny that he found some of his inquisitions at West Brom exasperating.
In the main, he did well for West Brom and enjoyed his time there but he used to complain to me about the stupid, ridiculous and unjustified questions that were thrown at him. Some of his directors seemed oblivious to the good job he was doing. Johnny used to say ‘if this is how they’re acting while we’re ticking along nicely, what are they going to be like when results start going against us?’ Ultimately it was his choice to go and he resigned from his post.
When we spoke about that period, he was quite open in telling me that I’d hate being a manager; that, because of my personality, I’d find it hard to bite my lip or sit in silence when faced with some of the nonsense he was asked to listen to. I don’t deny that certain coaches are well below par and badly out of their depth but others are given very little chance by people above them. You almost wonder if certain club executives are looking for problems and counting time before swinging the axe.
Under that sort of scrutiny, I admire anyone who tries to forge a career in management. It can be a very lonely existence and a harsh existence – harsh on the manager himself, his family and his friends.
I know from my days as a player that crowds very rarely turn on individual footballers. They’ll boo a bad result ,or the side as a whole, but professionals have safety in numbers. If I picked up a newspaper I read about a terrible display from Leeds United, not a terrible display from Peter Lorimer. Yes, I might have had a shocker but the defeat was the responsibility of the whole team, as the old cliche goes. In the dressing room, there’s collective disappointment.
A manager’s lot is different – he’s responsible for the tactics, the team selection and the results. Criticism of any of that is aimed at him and him alone. It can by cutting and it can be very swift, as we saw with Simon Grayson at Elland Road last season.
Simon’s made the odd mistake, like every coach does, but his record with Leeds is very impressive. Calling him to account is one thing (and he knows fine well that it comes with the territory) but I can’t for the life of me understand the minority of supporters who started to question his future. It was quite ridiculous.
But that’s football’s fickle nature in a nutshell – when a club run into a patchy spell of form, everything is seen to be wrong. The manager isn’t good enough, the players aren’t good enough; the board aren’t spending enough money and the team are going nowhere. There’s always someone who’s answer to any situation is ‘get rid of the manager’.
In England, there are far too many sackings. That’s why, in a way, you can understand what Alex McLeish is doing by going to Aston Villa. He hasn’t shown great loyalty to Birmingham City, considering that they were happy to keep him on despite their relegation from the Premier League, but management is a two-sided coin. Some coaches are guilty of looking after their own interests; some clubs are equally guilty of sacking their managers without good reason or due consideration. The merry-go-round gets more crazy by the year.
Maybe I’d have been able to cut it and maybe I’d have done a good job for someone. I had a fair few offers during the last few years of my playing career but nothing felt right, and nothing about the game persuaded me that my initial impression of management was wrong.
It’s not at all healthy that football is an industry where coaches are turfed out on average after a year-and-a-half in their jobs, but it’s been that way since the year dot and will be that way forever and a day.
You know that for sure by the fact that most of the 24 clubs in the Championship last season set their hearts and minds on promotion. At the end of the day, only three of them were ever going to achieve it, leaving post-mortems aplenty.
When the forthcoming season ends, the final table will invariably created more disappointed chairmen than happy chairmen. It invariably does. Then the cycle begins again – sackings, resignations, a shifting of the deckchairs. To be honest, I’m glad that I was never part of it.