Plastic Football: Management In the age of expendability

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

On Monday the 1st Feb 2016, not a ball was kicked in the Premier League, and yet in many ways it was the definitive Premier League day. A day where football confirmed what we already knew, that it has entered an age of expendability.

Monday was #DeadlineDay, the Premier League's ultimate ‘made for TV’ (and social media) event. A full day of live TV updates, a trending hashtag, and rampant speculation. But despite the bright lights and brighter shirts, there were hardly any actual transfers. With Premier League clubs largely sensible enough to do their business during the rest of the month, or not at all, #DeadlineDay became something of damp squib signings-wise. All the sizzle, none of the substance.

In fact, the day was stolen by a far bigger piece of news, as Manchester City announced Pep Guardiola would take over as their boss in the summer. It was another classic modern football storyline, with incumbent Manuel Pellegrini left as a lame duck, despite having a realistic chance at four major trophies.

It’s a storyline that is repeated every year. Gone is the time when managers were given time to bed in. Take a look at the three managers below and their records over their first 50 games at their club:

The records above belong to three Manchester United bosses during their first 50 games in charge. Manager A is David Moyes and manager B is Louis Van Gaal, two managers who have been roundly criticised for their time in charge. Manager C? Legendary coach Sir Alex Ferguson. Seen as one of the best of all time, Ferguson won fewer games than either of his successors in his first 50 games. Managers today are given nowhere near the same amount of time they were in Ferguson’s day. Even success isn’t enough anymore. Pellegrini has been replaced while still having a realistic chance of winning multiple trophies, and even Jose Mourinho, once seen as an untouchable managerial genius, has been shown the door at Chelsea.

So why are managers so harshly treated in football today? Well it’s largely because football itself has become an expendable game. The hype of #DeadlineDay is another classic example. The more connected social media age has increased the spotlight, and alongside the increase in money in the game, the pressure to act fast. Football used to be full of managerial institutions, towering figures putting down roots at clubs and building a legacy. All the power in football used to rest with these dominant managerial figures, who kept players in check with a mix of discipline and fear. Today managers are constantly living in fear, as all the power and prestige has moved to the players they manage. It’s become a plastic game, with an emphasis on having the shiniest and splashiest manager, but where these managers are always expendable and have a limited life span.

There are few things in our culture that provoke conversation quite like sport. The Premier League, as the country’s biggest sporting competition, creates a huge amount of hype on a daily basis, and as #DeadlineDay shows, even when no football is being played! We all love talking about football, but this level of mass consumption has its consequences. In this bright spotlight, players, managers and every other part of modern football have become expendable, and it’s a very different game because of it.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search