Football has been the national religion of England for well over a century now. Once upon a time, mustachioed men wearing MC Hammer-like shorts and thick jerseys would kick a brown lump of leather around a black and white mud bath just for the pure love of it. They would emerge onto the field to the roars of tens of thousands, attendances that today would be the envy of even Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The players, with their Brylcreem-soaked hair and broken noses, played as part time employees, earning merely a shiny pittance for their troubles. Managers, too, did not earn well. Football was not an industry back then, it was a sport. The only revenue club owners received came from those who had walked through the turnstiles.
It was a romantic time, and one that the purists would very much like to return to, but those were different days and world is now a very different place.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you may have heard that Roberto Mancini was sacked as manager of Manchester City this week. Mancini took over at the end of 2009, replacing Mark Hughes after the club was taken over by Abu Dhabi (where I happen to live). In that time he has been forced to buy players he did not want, forced to pay players wages that they were not worth – who is worth a footballers wage incidentally – and forced to not comment to the press about fights with Mario Balotelli. From his 191 games in charge he won 113 games, one Premier League title, one Cup and one Community Shield. He drew 38 games and lost only 40. That is a win rate of 60%. Not bad.
Being beaten by Manchester United to the Premier League title and losing the FA Cup final to Wigan Athletic sealed his fate, although we all know that a replacement was being scouted some months ago.
The point is that we are all up in arms about how football managers are treated in English football. And why shouldn’t we be? Chelsea are a joke, so too are Manchester City. Alex Ferguson was at the helm of Manchester United since 1986 and he didn’t win anything in his first three years, but can we expect that level of loyalty to ever be repeated?
I very much doubt it. Football, like many other top sports, is a business. Each club has its own model, but the general idea is to make money. It is a global cash cow and trophies and titles breed a greater fan base and that in turn helps stimulate economies, enterprises, and egos. Football, then, is a business like any other, it follows conventional business rules, i.e. make profit. There is no time for loyalty.
But is that wrong? The point of a business is to make money. A CEO will employ people to run the company and they will be expected to meet targets. If they don’t meet those targets then invariably they will be replaced by someone who can. People often forget that the Premier League was created specifically to make money. Up until the end of 1991/92 season, the old Division 1 (now the Championship) was the top flight in English football. But the Football League wanted to maintain control of the cash hand-outs; the clubs, obviously, disagreed. They resigned from the Football League en masse before the start of the 1992/93 season and the Premier League was born.
The idea behind the Premier League was that the clubs would receive huge sums in exchange for TV rights from a certain Mr. Murdoch. TV rights are powerful rights, and the power of advertising is what drives modern football forward.
Football is business, not charity. And if the man you have employed to win you league titles and cups has failed to do so, then you will get rid of him and find someone else who can.
Make no mistake, it makes a complete mockery of what we once called “the beautiful game”, but it is no less a reality of the modern world. My advice to you then, Mr. Mancini, is if you want to achieve real greatness as a manager, join a club in the lower echelons of the football league and show them what you can do with a real working-mans budget.
If nothing else you will be reminded that down there sport comes before business. The pitches won’t be black and white and there won’t be many mustaches or MC Hammer pantaloons, but the magic won’t be far off.