In the football world where you are judged on results, if you do not get them, you run the risk of losing your job. Time is not your best friend. Owners and investors alike will listen to a manager’s philosophy, and if it matches the ambition of the owners then the relationship can begin to flourish. But what if the results do not come? Is your team now underachieving? If you are not producing what you set out in your philosophy. It will most likely result in the sack.
But does it? Are there certain managers, no matter what they do, who are immune from the sack? Arsene Wenger is the prime model of an un-sackable manager. Arsenal’s longest-serving Manager gave 22 years’ service to the club before he agreed to finish and move on. The fans had been calling for him to go for a few years. They were sick of the same tactics and craved success as every fan.
Last week Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola came out and said he could get the sack if City did not beat Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16. Even the great Pep thinks he is not immune to the sack. But I beg to disagree! Pep is one of the world’s top coaches – if not the best. His managerial record speaks for itself. He has a philosophy which he has stuck to which brings him success. From the start of his managerial career Pep has been a winner. Starting at Barcelona B up until now, he has won 29 major trophies. Not surprising then that Manchester City Owner ‘Sheikh Mansour’, wanted Pep as his head coach. He wanted to win!
The Premier League title this year has all but gone for Pep and his ‘City All-stars’. But there is still one trophy within reach which the City owners crave- ‘The Champions League’. If City do not win it this year it will be seen as negative and not what the owners set out at the start of the season to achieve. Do they sack him? I doubt it as it already looks like a new contract might be on the table.
This leads me onto the Irish league. The league I cover. The Danske Bank Premiership has taken off to another level. Money coming in and players travelling from across Europe to play in our little league. But have clubs just become comfortable with the managers that they have? Do some of the managers actually work to a philosophy?
Only this season there were calls for Linfield manager David Healy to be sacked. The man that led the club to the 2018-2019 League title, and the wonderful run in Europe which brought in the club a few pounds. The board stuck with him and they are back on top of the league and looking strong to finish champions again. Now was he un-sackable? Probably not.
Then I look over to my own club and the legend that is Stephen “Stanley” Baxter. Is Stanley un-sackable? Has he got too much power at Seaview to be sacked? Stephen brought the club back from the brink of death. Stanley started his great management love adventure with the Crues going back 18 years. Since the Crues’ promotion back to the topflight they have won: three Premier League titles; three County Antrim Shields; two Irish cups; one Setanta Cup; and one League Cup.
Has Stanley’s philosophy changed? I don’t really know. I have not heard it talked about, but you can get the gist of what it is: direct style of aggressive football. For this to happen, Jordon Owens is key, but what happens when Jordon is not around anymore? Let’s face it, the club captain, a stalwart Colin Coates was shown the door, or politely put “not offered a new contract”. The only like-for-like replacement the Crues could get for Owens would be Ballymena’s, Richard Lecky. Otherwise, they will need to look at the way they play football.
Last season the Crues won the Irish Cup. The powers at Seaview crave either that or the Premier League title, anything that gets them into Europe. That is a success for them. More money in the back pocket! Without the European money, things at Seaview might get a little interesting. Last season 55 goals against and the Irish Cup was a success. They qualified for Europe.
But what of this season! Beaten by Coleraine in the League cup final, and if they lose to Linfield on Friday in the Danske Bank Premiership it will most likely put them out of the league running too. Which brings me to the Irish Cup tie away to Glentoran. Now the Crues might surprise me and win the league and the Irish Cup, but the investors at the Oval want a slice of the European money too, and that Irish Cup tie is going to be one hell of a tie. So, this year the Irish cup is not so clear cut.
But the most worrying thing for me this season has been the constant use of players being played out of position. Jamie McGonigle a natural talent and striker on fire, is played out of position regularly. You just have to look at the League Cup final and see he was being played left-wing, right-wing and as a number 10. Anywhere but the out and out striker. You still have the right and left-back partnership at centre defence.
Poor old Chris Hegarty must be wondering what he has to do to get a run at centre back. Rory Hale sitting on the bench. Yes, I get he has been injured, but it didn’t stop Stanley slotting Rodney Brown a left-back by trade into centre back on Boxing day after having spent one year out of the game. Then Sean O’Neill! In instead of Ger Doherty, and we all love Sean at Seaview, but it was a cup final and he has been warming the bench most of the season.
Stanley needs to stay but I would really love to see a change in his Philosophy whatever it is and drive to succeed. Will a more successful manager like Pep change his? Probably yes, because he thrives on winning and will change his direction to get the success. But when a manager becomes comfortable and they are so well respected and liked at a club, it is so easy to get into a rut and just get on with it. That is until it hurts the club in the pocket to the sound of a few thousand pounds.
So, for me yes, some managers are un-sackable but there are some managers that have spent so much time at a club they have become part of the fixtures and fittings and just will never be sacked even if the results and performances are bad. Part of a big family that everyone wants to love and not tell off. Tell Stanley off and he will not be shy running into the stand to land one on you. But football is a business, not a place for sentiment. Clubs – especially clubs in the Irish League – need to remember that, because simply put… gate receipts alone will not pay the wages.