18 January ~ So far this season there have been 30 managerial “departures”, an improvement on last year’s 33 for the equivalent period. Pundits have condemned “short-termism” and club chairmen have offered the insight “it’s a results business” as an explanation. Managers show a little more variety in how they respond, both in the build-up to and in the aftermath of their departure.
Roy Hodgson’s rain-soaked and lonely stroll across the Anfield pitch after defeat to Northampton was an early warning of the criticism to come. Initially he looked for perspective: “I’ve had disappointments before.” But, as his troubles mounted, he switched to defiance, denial and empathy with the fans. He was determined not to resign and towards the end he refused to discuss his own position: “I’m depressed enough with the performance.” His attempts at empathy were both curious and ultimately fatal to his cause.
Managers often play the empathy card – “I’m hurting just as much as the fans” – but few do it in quite the same way as Hodgson. For example, after the Blackburn defeat he equated the dejection of the “large travelling contingent” with the dressing room mood. Fine, but any fellow feeling had been undone by comments like “fans need to become supporters” or “the famous Anfield support hasn’t really been there”.
At Walsall, Chris Hutchings’ dismissal seemed to be a surprise only to him. After only four victories in 22 games, Hutchings edged towards the bizarre when, following a 4-1 defeat to Peterborough, he used his post-match interview to “look for the positives”. The local paper described him as “blinkered”.
The opposite stance is perhaps overwhelming honesty with Brian Laws at times bordering on the confessional. Contrasting Burnley’s victory at Barnsley on Boxing Day with defeat to Scunthorpe a few days later, he admitted that the difference was “inexplicable, like chalk and cheese”. Forgivable, perhaps, until he offered “complacency” as an explanation. For a side that had won three in 11 during the previous two months it was an explanation that did little to inspire confidence.
For some, attack seems to be the best line, particularly when it goes with a degree of self-confidence. George Burley, at Crystal Palace, regularly met criticism with a reminder of his record at other clubs, stressing the need to be given more time, and conveniently leaving his international record unmentioned. In October, with only three league victories behind him, he looked forward to promotion “next season”. Implicitly Burley was writing off the current season: not what owners or fans want to hear.
Sam Allardyce, caught out by a change of ownership, was quick to blame people who, he supposed, had put in a bad word for him with the new regime. Typically, he ignored the many people in Blackburn who had tired of his approach of back-room bean-counting and on-field pragmatism. Roy Keane, on the other hand, no longer manager at Ipswich, resorted to downbeat realism, quick to criticise anybody, himself included, who failed to meet his standards. In his intensity and swings to the extremes he became a caricature of himself.
By contrast, others have sprung surprises with previously unrevealed humour. Although Carlo Ancelotti’s maverick eyebrow has always hinted at unspoken wryness, his self-deprecating remarks recently have won him new friends. When asked if the uncertainties of the managerial life and graffiti protests caused him to lose sleep, his deadpan response was: “I don't need a tablet. Maybe it's because of the drink. I have the total support of the owner and the club, minus one fan."
Avram Grant showed unexpected gallows humour before West Ham faced Birmingham. Asked if his current bosses, until recently boardroom occupants at St Andrew’s, had given him any instructions for the match he said they had asked "If you can lose by as many goals as you can".
Managers show many responses to pressure and to the sack, but perhaps the most revealing comment came in the reports of Hutchings sacking. The local paper reported that fans had grown tired of his “cliches and generic platitudes”. If that is likely to become a basis for more managerial departures in the future, it probably means 90 per cent of jobs are at risk. Brian Simpson