Why would anyone want to be the manager of Manchester United?
A few years ago, if you asked that to a soccer fan, you’d be greeted with a dumbfound stare and probably a quick exit from the conversation. The fame, prestige and glory of winning with a super club like Manchester United, Real Madrid, or Barcelona are lifelong goals, things that most coaches can only dream of. Check out The Damned United for a glimpse into the mind of manager looking up – Brian Clough deplored Don Revie and Leeds but felt in his bones the need for the top job in England. As a manager, you always want the best job because you want your name whispered with the game’s greats. And it would be, no doubt about it.
However, as we wrap up 2015 in a little more than a week, I’d wager that there has never been a worse time to be a manager of a superclub. Consider that in the Premier League, two clubs are rumored to be on the cusp of firing their managers even though both Manchester clubs have good odds to win the league. City may yet go on that long-desired Champions League run. The January transfer window is about to crack open, so the ownership groups of these clubs have the opportunity to spend and reinforce with the current man, but that’s not enough. Now, in the era of constant hot takes and Twitter rumors, you need to win (and in some cases, dominate) from start to finish to feel safe in your job, especially if the current hot coach is available now or at the end of the season.
Who cares, you think? Speculating on Jose Mourinho taking over United and Pep choosing between Chelsea and City is a fun argument to have in the pub when watching your club slog through a midweek match, but this insane constant managerial speculation is beginning to have a damaging effect on international soccer as a whole. Consider:
We are creating a class of mercenary coaches who circulate among the richest clubs: In times past, there was a handful of managers in leagues who specialized in keeping teams up. They would be hired midseason by a club in danger of being relegated, save them, and when the club faltered the subsequent season they’d be cut loose to find their new team. Now there is increasingly a pool of high-paid managers who are at different times available to be hired by a mega-club. These managers know how to deal with sky-high management expectations, whiny world-class players, and a suffocating media. They swoop into a club, win a trophy or two, and then when they aren’t winning enough they are replaced. This would not be a problem except….
The upside of hiring a promising manager is lacking for both sides: Consider Andre Villas-Boas and David Moyes. Both were considered hot prospect managers, up and comers who would be the next generation of super-managers. Both were quickly burned out by Chelsea and United, respectively, and have yet to regain that superstar status they were predicted. This could be due to the fact they were not exemplary managers to begin with, but it could also very well be that unrealistic expectations placed upon these young managers sets them up to fail. The result is clubs would rather gamble on a Carlo Ancelotti, who has a track record, than hire an unproven manager who could make the owners look foolish. Conversely, while good managers always assume they can win wherever they go, what’s the incentive for a manager making a name for himself to step up to a Chelsea or Real Madrid when they can move to a team on the cusp of contending and try to make a name for themselves there.
The managerial shuffle over-inflates player wages: You don’t put cheap plastic covers on a Corvette’s seats, and, in the same way, when you hire a super-manager you don’t force them to use the players on hand. Management is keen to open their wallets to pay for the top-flight talent their new manager wants, no, needs to win. Selling clubs jack up the price because they know the superclubs will pay, and the new manager sells off his disgruntled stars to another super team needing to make a splash in the transfer market. Hence, you get massive wage bills before players and managers have had a chance to proven themselves.
Ultimately, the fans end up paying for this constant game of shells: Yes, it’s cool that your favorite club just hired Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but at some point the owners need to make up the cash paying the manager’s salary and player wage bill. That’s why we are seeing the skyrocketing of ticket prices, sponsorship, and bad preseason tours. This does not just affect the fans of major clubs, as wages rise for all players once the top flight ones are getting paid and thus your team eventually has to keep raising revenue to keep up.
At some point, this soccer bubble of spending and the race for managers will burst, and the patience afforded people like Arsene Wenger will be longed for by fans tired of the constant churn and higher prices.
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