So the silly season has arrived once again, just like we all knew it would. On Thursday, Marco Silva became the fourth victim of this season’s euphemistically titled, managerial-merry-go-round. Everton’s billionaire, Monaco dwelling (and presumably tax-dodging) owner, Farhad Moshiri, finally ran out of patience with the man he had once been so desperate to appoint. Results were poor, signings failed to deliver, a familiar story that echoes through the dusty halls of modern football. Silva followed Quique Sánchez Flores, Unai Emery, Mauricio Pochettino and Javi Gracia out of their respective doors, there will be more casualties before the season is out, you just wait.
Had you asked me the question, six days ago, ‘should Ralph Hasenhüttl be sacked as Southampton manager?’ it would have given me cause to stop and think about my answer. At that point, Saints had not won at home since mid-April. They had been beaten 9-0 by Leicester City and also succumbed to home defeats by both Everton and Bournemouth this season. Things were bleak, sacking the coach might have been harsh but not entirely unexpected given the nature of modern football. Six days and two home wins later and the outlook at St Mary’s has changed from doom and gloom to balmy optimism, modern football eh?
As I sat watching Saints hold on for three points against Norwich, the idea of sacking Hasenhüttl began to look absurd in the extreme. The day after that win the Austrian celebrated his one-year anniversary in charge of the club. One year to turn around an organisation that has been mismanaged for at least the past three years? Between 1955 and 1994 just four men managed Southampton, that’s an average of nearly 10 years each. Since then, and it’s is fair to say since the advent of the Premier League in 1992, there have been twenty-two permanent managers in twenty-five years. Just over one year each. Underperforming managers have been discarded with ugly haste, successful managers poached by larger, more affluent clubs before objectives have been achieved. When those at the top of the food chain lose patience it affects all those in the lower reaches too.
The irony is that the men who lead our football teams are thought of less as managers and more as coaches these days. Most clubs operate with a ‘Director of Football’ or similar these days, somebody who oversees scouting, transfers, wages, academy business etc and so on. So why is it that coaches are given so little time to coach the players at their disposal? Did Quique Sánchez Flores really have enough time to ‘coach’ the players at his disposal at Watford? Mauricio Pochettino is a modern coach in every sense of the word. His over-achievement at Tottenham, consistently finishing above and playing better football than many more generously funded football clubs, is surely the very definition of good coaching and yet he has gone, six months after a Champions League final.
I understand, of course, that all of this is dictated by money. A Lawrie McMenemy could probably never happen these days. Big Lawrie took over at Saints in November 1973 and promptly led them to relegation. There were no parachute payments back then, half of the squad did not jump ship to join some cash-rich newly-promoted side. McMenemy just got on with his job, won the FA Cup as a second-tier side, got Saints promoted in his THIRD full season and eventually peaked with a second-place finish in 1984, more than TEN years after taking the job. If Saints had lost to Watford last Saturday perhaps Hasenhüttl might have been sacked, we will never know. After the win against Norwich on Wednesday he thanked his superiors for their patience; who knows how much Saints might now benefit from this show of faith in their Austrian manager.
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