Saturday 26 September ~
If a week is a long time in politics, a year can be an eternity for a football manager. Just ask Kevin Keegan, Tony Adams or Juande Ramos. Phil Brown, the so-called "Primark Jose Mourinho", is another boss whose fortunes have tilted dramatically in the past 12 months. This time last season, Brown's Hull City became only the second team to beat Arsenal at the Emirates. A wonder goal from Geovanni and a fair bit of luck in their own penalty box added up to give Brown "the best day of my life, without a shadow of a doubt". He is now fighting for his job.
After their win at Arsenal, Hull went on to beat Spurs and West Brom, climbing up to third and earning Brown the manager of the month award for September. No team was expected to break into the top four, never mind promoted upstarts who have never played in the top flight before. If it all seemed a little too good to be true for Brown, that's because it was. His team only won once in the second half of the season and only escaped relegation due to the even greater ineptitude elsewhere.
If the end to last season was poor, the going has only got rougher this season. As Hull travel to Liverpool today they are already trying to scrape their way out of a relegation battle. With a single win from their opening six matches, an inglorious exit from the Carling Cup and only Paul Hart's record-breakingly bad Portsmouth team for comfort, the writing seems to be on the wall for Hull City and Phil Brown.
Hull's fans have been jeering the team to their recent defeats but if Hull's chairman is to believed, Brown's job is safe: "When the going gets tough you don’t start executing people, running around in panic mode. The Premier League season is six games in. I think it is absolutely despicable that people go to a game of football and start shouting at the manager. It’s pathetic. This is a manager that has proven he can take a side from the bottom of the Championship to the top of the Premier League," said Paul Duffen.
The Hull chairman has a point. When Brown took over in 2006, Hull were 22nd in the Championship. Brown led that team to safety in his first season and promotion in his second. He has effectively made a poor Championship team into a poor Premier League one, as significant an accomplishment as most other young English mangers can boast. Given the club's heritage and financial outlay, Hull's current struggles should not come as a surprise.
It is cruelly ironic that Phil Brown should be undermined by unrealistic expectations, as they are only the product of his own boasts and self-aggrandisement. The expectations now levelled at Brown would not be so high if he had not built himself up to be some kind of managerial messiah. Brown grasped the limelight that came the way of Hull City last season, basking in his own spotlight and even touting his own credentials to manage England. If his team didn't perform well he accused them of not playing like a "Phil Brown team".
The use of the third person is bad enough, but Brown has effectively alienated himself from his team's weaknesses. Famously, he berated his players on the pitch for a poor first half performance against Manchester City. The players had to sit in front of the travelling supporters like naughty school kids being told they'd let themselves down, their manager down and the fans down. Brown was not only demeaning his players but also using them to shield himself from criticism.
The defeat against Man City was seen as a turning point in Hull's season, but Brown has not developed or changed his style. After last week's loss to Birmingham City he again offered a critique of his players by way of explanation: "The players are paid a lot of money to play football. It's a simple game and we just want them to pass to another player in a Hull shirt. I ask them simple questions but maybe I should start asking them more awkward things. Confidence levels are low but there are no excuses for passing the ball off the pitch." And even after Wednesday night's 4-0 defeat at home to Everton, for which Brown picked a weakened team, he laid the blame on "a number of senior professionals who let us down". Blaming his players might suit Phil Brown's ego, but he is only forcing more ridicule onto the people who could save his job.