The pleasures of playing football are easy enough to understand. It’s a great sport and if you’re any good you get a shed load of cash, the sexual attentions of fake blonde women, and a mock Tudor house full of 132″ plasma TVs.
There’s nothing not to like about being a footballer. It’s a part-time job which you might do little more than around twenty hours a week.
But being a manager is an entirely different gig. It occupies their every waking hour. While many say it’s the best job in football after being a player, I’m not sure that Zola and Tony Mowbray would say that this week. The pressure it puts on them at times seems unbearable.
Mowbray, a tough, hard-boiled Teessider visibly aged by 10 years in the last 9 months managing Celtic. After the midweek thumping by St Mirren he looked more like someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder than a man who had just lost a mere football game. Admittedly it was Celtic’s worst result for 30 years and it ended any remote hopes of the Parkhead club might have harboured about catching Rangers but hey, its only football lads. No-one died. You’d not have guessed that from Mowbray’s demeanour though. Yet he had been a successful manager in Scotland before at Hibernian, this wasn’t unknown territory to him. He knew the league and how massive the Celtic job is but that knowledge did nothing to ease the visible strain on him. Fortunately, with features like a quarry, Mogga has never relied on his chiselled good looks in life but seeing his haggard face would make anyone question why anyone would want to do such a job if this is what it reduces a strong man to.
Down in London, Franco Zola has gone from the beatific, smiling chap to a man who looks weighed down by the burden of the task at West Ham. With head in hands and grey hair suddenly very visible, during the Stoke game he looked more like a man who had witnessed some terrible disaster rather than just a football team losing by the odd goal. Where is the pleasure in that?
Wenger this season has looked like a man in physical pain, rocking to and fro on the bench, clutching himself, his large padded coat looking more and more like a straitjacket.
As a manager you often get little credit when the side wins but all of the blame when they lose. If you blow your own trumpet, Mourinho style, you’re accused of being arrogant and insufferable, if you don’t you’re accused of being too nice. If you don’t show emotion, Sven-style, you’ll be accused of not caring, if you are emotional, Keegan style, you’ll be accused of being blinkered by emotions.
You’re likely only to be in the job for an average of four seasons and yet are supposed to care about the club as though you’d stood on the terraces for 50 years. If it looks like you don’t care 100% you’ll suffer the wrath of blinkered judgemental fans who seem unable to believe that the employees of a football club do not care as much about it as the supporters do. Some fans have exaggerated distorted expectations for their clubs and are ridiculously impatient for success. So as a manager you end up being judged against a standard you know is completely inappropriate.
If you’re a realist and tell the fans the truth that it’s very unlikely you’ll win anything – they’ll accuse you of not having ambition. If you say you are going to win something, you’ll be ridiculed as deluded as soon as you fail.
To add insult to injury, unless you’re a top dog, you’ll probably get paid worse than some of the more rubbish players you have to manage. Even if you do well, a bad start the following season can see you out of the door. Such capital that you build up at a club is soon dissipated by a few poor results. The board knows it can’t sack the players so it’s easier to sack you instead. The only comfort is that one you’re out of a job, due to the high turnover; you’re likely to benefit from someone else’s sacking soon enough.
Even a manager of Wenger’s achievements has had calls for his head this season and is clearly showing major stress this season, squatting on the touchline with head in hands. It looks like torture. Who looks at that and thinks to themselves, you know what, I fancy doing that. Do new managers think it won’t happen to them?
Even having been successful and being really good at your job doesn’t insure you against a barrage of insults and criticism, often from stupid fans who know sod all about football but nonetheless think they know more than a manager who has won titles, cups and major trophies. These find their way onto phone-ins and witter on about players and managers not having passion. Passion is everything for these people though they don’t really mean passion, they mean running around a lot and maybe shouting a bit too. That shows you care apparently.
If you’re Rafa, Ancelloti, Mancini et al, it must be galling to get a slagging from people as though you have achieved nothing in the game and are some clueless idiot who is deliberately messing things up. You must feel like lashing out – telling the dumb as fans to come and have a go if they think it’s so bloody easy.
The only exception to this is the extraordinary Alex Ferguson. He’s 68. Sixty eight. Think about that. The oldest living Glaswegian, Fergie looks 10 years younger, seems full of vitality and energy and doesn’t just cope with the pressure but seems to thrive on it. Clearly being the most successful manager in the history of football tends to relieve you of a lot of the stress of having to prove yourself, but Ferguson actually seems to love being under pressure; he seems to enjoy it. It’s keeping him young. But he is a rare exception.
Who would be a manager? A masochist it would seem.