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Managing expectations

Thursday 22nd March 2018

Alan Pardew looks like the cool uncle who used to slip you alcohol and let you have drags of his cigarettes at family parties. 

He looks like the kind of guy who would go into the lingerie section in Selfridges in December and buy two of everything; one for his wife and one for his mistress.

He looks like a smarmy salesman that goes takes his clients out for fancy dinners in swanky restaurants and obliterates his company’s pre-approved spending cap for such events by ordering lobster thermidor even though he has a violent shellfish allergy.

He also looks like a football manager.

In their book, Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski talk about the archetypal football manager as being ‘white, with a conservative haircut, between the ages of 35 and 60 and a former professional player’. 

Pardew, like many other managers in the Premier League fits this mould perfectly.

We can also add to this list of attributes a) a collection of nice suits and b) the fact that, in this country at least, the preferred candidate is usually British.

It is unsurprising then that the same few men are never out of work for long. 

West Brom is Pardew’s seventh job in English football and he is one of a handful of managers who seem to have been everywhere.  Indeed the same six men, Pardew, Pulis, Allardyce, Hughes, Hodgson and Moyes have been appointed to Premier League managerial positions 25 times between them.

All of these managers fit the majority of the criteria laid out by Kuper and Szymanski in their book but they are also bound by another, unfortunate fact; they often fail. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

Alex Mcleish, despite failing as a manager in England, Belgium and Egypt in the last decade, has been given the chance to manage Scotland.

Mark Hughes has just inexplicably been given another managerial job having not been very good at any of his previous clubs.

David Moyes will probably lose his job in the summer regardless of where West Ham finish but will almost certainly find himself in another club’s dugout come August.

Tony Pulis finds himself outside the Premier League for the moment but even he managed to secure a fairly lucrative position, that of Middlesbrough manager, despite being sacked by West Brom who he left bottom of the league.

Alongside Pulis slugging it out in the Championship we can see more examples of this kind of typecasting; Neil Warnock and Steve Bruce are both journeymen managers – although it must be said that the latter adheres to a stricter geographical radius when applying for jobs than Warnock who will apparently work anywhere that will have him. 

The three of them could all end up back in the Premier League next season.

Some clubs are a little more adventurous when appointing a manager and are willing to forego Britishness as long as the man they are after has the haircut and suits etc.

Arsene Wenger is a prime example of this.  When he arrived Tony Adams famously claimed he looked like a schoolteacher, hinting in the process that intellect is viewed with derision in football.

Despite originally not having the backing of his skipper -indeed Adams has also been critical of his former coach recently despite the Frenchman having dragged him from the murky depths of alcoholism -Wenger went on to do rather well.

Wenger also bucked the trend in that he hadn’t had a particularly high-profile playing career, another attribute that, up until very recently, seemed to be a deal-breaker for Chairmen.

In recent times the likes of Wenger and Mourinho, who by his own admission was an average player, have taught us that you don’t have to have been a fantastic layer to be a fantastic manager.

In fact there are many instances that have shown us that being a fantastic player can sometimes result in you becoming a terrible manager.

Ruud Gullit and Diego Maradona are proof of this.  As is Tony Adams, who was more functional than fantastic, but who still played his entire career at the very top of the game.

Gary Neville is a more recent example; he failed in Spain despite having accrued a host of domestic honours as a player prompting nationwide shock:

He seems so knowledgeable on Monday Night Football’ we said in unison.

Arrigo Sacchi, a man who sits alongside Mourinho and Wenger in the bad player/great manager category had it right when he said ‘You don’t have to have been a horse to be a jockey.’

There are of course examples of great horses who went on to be brilliant jockeys; Guardiola and Zidane are two of the current crop.

By and large managers are plucked from an extremely small pool of men.  Whenever a vacancy becomes available the same names will appear on the bookies shortlist of potential replacements.

The list usually has a couple of black managers at long odds and whilst many are asked in for interviews there are and have been very few black managers in English football over the years, indeed Chris Hughton is the only black manager in the Premier League at present.

Curtis Woodhouse is an ex pro who possesses many of the aforementioned attributes outlined by the authors of Soccernomics but, sadly for his job prospects, he is black.  Woodhouse is extremely outspoken on Twitter about the ordeals he has faced when applying for managerial roles and claims that other Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaches are experiencing similar difficulties.

It must be disheartening for these coaches to see the same weary and wizened men getting the best jobs especially when they have paid the astronomical fee required to take the UEFA Pro License course.

Woodhouse recently mocked Barnet’s decision to appoint Martin Allen for a fifth time whilst also claiming that the outgoing manager, Graham Westley, would have no problems getting another job despite leaving Barnet rock bottom of the football league.

In case you were wondering, both Allen and Westley fit Kuper and Szymanski’s prototype.

There is also a lack of women in the game; even the top job in woman’s football has been held by a man (currently Phil Neville and formally the disgraced Mark Sampson) more recently than a woman. 

Yes, there are more men involved in football and therefore statistically they have more chance of getting the top jobs, but how many clubs would take an application from a woman seriously?

What would the reaction be to a woman taking over at your club? Sadly I think that even the most qualified female coach would be overlooked in favour of an ex-pro with short back and sides and a nice collection of Armani jackets.

It is time that clubs took another look at their hiring criteria, if they do then it might not be long before we see female coaches, black managers and people from outside the cliquey, I’ll-scratch-your- back-if-you-scratch-mine culture of the game, getting a chance to prove themselves.

Unfortunately this is unlikely, why would clubs risk it when it is so easy to stick to the current flawed formula?  At the moment if they fail, say Kuper and Szymanski, at least they will have failed in the traditional way.

Dan Whelan

Dan is currently working as a columnist for Plymouth Argyle's award-winning programme, The Pilgrim.  He covers a variety of footballing topics but specifically enjoys writing about the inner-workings of the football fan.

He does this by drawing on his experiences following Argyle and his observations of the behaviour of supporters in both their natural environment (the terraces) and their technological playground (Twitter).


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