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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

How long does it take to get a new manager?

If you’re a football fan using Twitter and you follow fans of your club you may occasionally get frustrated at the opinions of others with regard to players, the manager, the tactics being used or even the best pub to have a pre-match cider in.

However, the last two weeks has seen interaction like never before if you’re a Bristol City fan.  Heart-breaking defeat against Reading and abject capitulation at Blackpool inside five days caused a huge groundswell of calls for Keith Millen to be sacked.  The natural impatience of the modern-day fan meant that when news wasn’t forthcoming by the Sunday morning, many were getting frustrated.  By Monday morning the announcement was made and thoughts naturally turned to who the new man might be.  What has followed has been fascinating and intriguing.
The way many fans would see a club go about appointing a new manager is incredible, with a whole number of criteria (some are listed at the bottom) apparently more important than getting the ‘right’ man.  I don’t doubt this is the same at many clubs across the country and not just symptomatic of the West.  I’d be interested to hear from Forest fans to see if this has panned out in a similar way this past week.

What specifically caused me to pen this piece though has been the reaction this week to Chief Executive Colin Sexstone’s statement that there may not be a new man in position by Saturday for our next match.  The majority of fans seem to find it flabbergasting that it is all taking so long (eight days and counting).
This is the most important appointment at the club – the whole club – in years.  Probably since we were languishing in the middle of League One and Gary Johnson was appointed manager. 
Take a step back and look outside football for a second.  How many medium-sized companies would appoint a new CEO just a week after releasing the previous incumbent?  Whilst I appreciate this scale is not comparable, the Tesco Chairman would be crucified by shareholders across the globe if he replaced an outgoing CEO so quickly – no-one would believe he had done enough due diligence on the new person to possibly know they were right for the role.  How could he, unless he had spent the entire week living with them and breathing the same air?
So why do football clubs rush this decision?  Why do they jump to conclusions on a new manager having probably only met them once, or sometimes before they’ve even met?
One could argue it is an extreme results-driven business.  What a manager has achieved at another club is clear for all to see – the results are online and printed in the papers, the highlights are on TV 24/7.   Whatever else goes on at the club, if the senior team are getting results on the pitch then all is rosy.  If they’re not, in most cases, any other good work being done is irrelevant. 
But is this any different in the ‘real’ world?  If a business is looking to appoint a new CEO, why are they concerned about their long-term plans, their style of management, their ideas on employee culture or their investment ideas?  Why do they want to know the characteristics of the person across the interview table?  Why do they put them through assessment centres and second interviews and make them come back in and present their thoughts on what the business will look like in five years, or what direction they want to take the brand in?
Why don’t they just look at the financial results of their previous business and decide that person is the right fit? 
It’s because so, SO much more goes into results than just on-paper records and high-profile performances, in both worlds; business and football.
For football clubs this comes down to aspects such as playing style, interaction with players, interactions with fans, the staff line-up they might want, the investment they’d expect and how they plan to bring the youth players into the first team and develop the younger set-up.  Do they want a reserve team?  Will they move to the area? How many games do they go and watch?  Do they have good connections within the game? Do they know European football and the players?  Are there any agents they work closely with, or can’t work with?  What motivates them?  What are their less positive characteristics?  What are their long-term plans for the club?  What is their ambition for the rest of their career?
These are just some of the questions that should come to the fore and that’s well before the agent starts sticking his oar in and starts discussing salaries, bonuses and contract protection.
Yet in this one industry, undoubtedly due to the passion involved and the idyllic world many wish the club lived in, this is all just a side issue.  If they did well with club ‘x’ then they’re obviously the right person for us.  Aren’t they?
Of course, in an ideal world the new manager would come in immediately and have the maximum time with the players.  Of course someone who has got results elsewhere should be on the shortlist and should be spoken to.  And of course, if the right man is available then we should go for him quickly. 
As far as I’m concerned the appointment can take a month, or more, if it turns out to be absolutely the right decision.  Admittedly that’s a big ‘if’, but what's a month if you're ensuring five or more years of success and achievement?

 Four other typical views I’ve seen this week:
1)      We need a big name - For some unless the club is courting Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger then we’re not being ambitious enough.  OK, a touch tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but some of the names being discussed are quite frankly ridiculous for a club bottom of the division and with a well-advertised £20m debt.  It’s a bit like a slightly balding, tubby 35 year-old business man walking into a night-club and wondering why the attractive, sophisticated young girls aren’t eyeing him up.

2)      The Board will take the cheap option – Not unlinked to the first point, somehow fans seem to think they know how much each manager will be paid and jump to conclusions about the names being linked, with the cheap option meaning we’ve ducked a big decision and are happy treading water. 

3)      I haven’t heard of him – It seems that unless you’re a known name then you are nothing.  In the old days this was all that happened.  Managers started out at non-league clubs and worked their way up – quickly enough if they were good enough.  Arsenal fans once said ‘Arsene Who?’; I’m sure there was even a clutch of Man United fans so oblivious to what was happening North of the Border back in 1986, that they hadn’t heard of Alex Ferguson.  Experience and know-how of the division you’re in doesn’t always guarantee the best results.  Sometimes a lean, hungry ambitious manager is just what the whole club needs.

4)      Why haven’t they just offered Manager X the job?  Well who knows?  Perhaps he didn’t apply.  Perhaps they’ve spoken to him but they didn’t get on?  Perhaps his agent demanded we sign Lionel Messi or he’s not interested?  This is linked to the main article but I do find it incredible that some seem to think it’s all so easy and straight-forward.

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