Hostile takeovers

wsc301 Rather than being a blessing, new owners often leave managers looking for a new job of their own, writes Mark Segal

Apart from the first day of the season, there are very few times in the life of a football team when you think anything is possible. The arrival of a new manager often brings increased expectation, but the fact they have been appointed more than likely means the club are already in the mire.

The same is also true when a club falls under new ownership. But whereas a manager will try to dampen expectations and set reasonable targets, the modern new owner will aim for the stars and set a ludicrously short timeframe to achieve it.

The new owners of West Ham, David Gold and David Sullivan, predicted Champions League football for the Hammers within seven years of them taking over in 2010. It is still possible, but relegation last season probably wasn’t in the plan. Attempting to achieve such unrealistic targets only heaps more pressure on the manager at a club. More often than not, they are the first to pay the price when things
begin to unravel.

There has been a string of sackings following high-profile takeovers in recent years. It seems a manager is never more at risk than just a few months after being given the complete backing of his new chairman. That said, this is not a modern phenomenon. After becoming majority shareholders at Tottenham in 2000, the Investment
company ENIC took just three months to sack George Graham and replace the former Arsenal manager with Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle. This blatant attempt to curry favour with fans has been repeated often since, with varying degrees of success.

In 2008, the new Newcastle owner Mike Ashley pulled the same stunt when he dismissed the unpopular Sam Allardyce and persuaded former fans’ favourite Kevin Keegan to return. Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish was the man John Henry and Fenway Sports Group called on when Roy Hodgson was shown the door within three months of the Boston-based business taking over from the unpopular Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The arguments over these sackings are varied and complex but there is a logic in new owners wanting to have their own man controlling events. In the business world it is common for new CEOs to come in and, after having explored the company for a while, install a whole new management team. Any millionaire investing their money into a football club would want a man they had interviewed and can trust at the helm.

But that is not to say the decisions are always the right ones. Allardyce again fell victim to the curse of the new chairman when he was unceremoniously bundled out of Blackburn within a month of Venky’s taking over. His replacement, Steve Kean, proved a controversial choice to take on the role. Results have made the decision look even more baffling.

West Ham took a similar step backwards when Gold and Sullivan sacked Gianfranco Zola within five months of moving in. By most measures Zola was not proving a success at Upton Park but he did keep the Hammers up, which was more than can be said for his successor, Avram Grant.

While most new owners of top-flight clubs can only dream of seeing their sides challenge at the very top, the modern mega-takeover, first witnessed in England when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, calls for a big name to take on a big project. Abramovich gave incumbent Claudio Ranieri a full year to prove himself at Stamford Bridge before signing up Champions League winner José Mourinho. Mark Hughes had 14 months at Manchester City before Roberto Mancini was drafted in. In each of these cases the original manager’s profile was not considered big enough for what the billionaire owners were intent on achieving.

This phenomenon is not just restricted to the Premier League. Mourinho was again the man in demand when Florentino Pérez regained control of Real Madrid in 2010 and tired of Manuel Pellegrini. In December the former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti was appointed to lead Paris Saint-Germain just four months after they were bought by Qatar Sports Investments.

Football management can be a precarious profession at the best of times, with the majority of managers neither given the time or resources to make their mark on a club. The emergence of new owners should hand them the opportunity of a lifetime, but in many cases it just ends with them looking for a new job.

From WSC 301 March 2012