In the era of the owner-manager, you'll never work alone
22:21 GMT, 4 September 2012
This has been football's summer of the owner-manager. Meet the new kid on the block.
The most important employee at the club used to be the man who picked the team. Now it is the man who picks the team from which the team is picked. And that isn’t the manager. Not any more.
Changing rules have created changed empowerment. It is not enough to know what is best for the team these days. The manager may think he needs a centre half, but this information is factored in with other policies, cash expectancy, the rafts of red tape now wrapped around what was a simple process of buying the best fit for the starting XI.
Clubs like Manchester United seem very old hat these days.
Working conditions: Brendan Rodgers has endured a tricky start to his reign as Liverpool manager
Ask the best qualified football person
at the club to identify the areas requiring improvement, then act on
his opinion: where is the strategy in that Far better to do it the
Roman Abramovich way.
Sugar daddy knows best.
Except there are not that many
owner-managers with Abramovich's resources, who can afford to get it
wrong (Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas, Juan Veron, Andriy
Shevchenko) and right (Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Didier Drogba,
Eden Hazard), and sometimes by accident (Roberto Di Matteo) with such
dramatic changes of direction yet still remain successful.
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Many clubs therefore resort to plan B.
Bean counter knows best; or Billy Beane counter knows best if your
owner happens to be a disciple of the statistical-financial analysis
method known as Moneyball.
Take Liverpool. If we are to believe
John W Henry’s open letter to supporters this week, the club were tied
in knots this summer pursuing a transfer policy of such fiendish
complexity and vision, that they were left with one top-class forward in
Luis Suarez, yet remain on course for success.
So, to borrow a phrase from Henry’s
side of the water, shall we cut the crap There are reasons to be
positive about Liverpool, but few were contained in Henry’s missive.
Liverpool did not fail to land Clint
Dempsey or anyone else this summer, due to an evangelical belief in
financial fair play. Liverpool 2012 were not greatly disadvantaged by
the mistakes of Tom Hicks or George Gillett, either, although they were
plentiful at the time.
And Liverpool certainly did not end up
light on strikers due to a long-term plan so sophisticated that the
Fenway Sports Group — in football for less than two years and confessed
novices — understand it, but those who have followed the game all their
lives remain mystified.
Put simply, a very rich man was burnt
in the transfer market last summer, feels he did not get value for money
and has determined it will not happen again. He blames those he
considered to be experts and will no longer trust mere football
Sadly, his manager, Brendan Rodgers,
now counts as an expert, too. So while Rodgers is one voice having a say
on transfer policy, he no longer carries the argument without various
stamps of approval, meaning Liverpool’s spending is managed by
committee. A committee that inadvertently overlooked the need for goals.
That is what often happens with
committees. Somebody thinks somebody else read the memo, and then it
gets put to the bottom of the out-tray, and this one was on holiday and
that one didn’t see it as his remit or was too worried to speak up in
case he said the wrong thing, and the rest have four different opinions
and the next thing you know Suarez is leading the line solo and
Manchester United have signed Robin van Persie; because the manager
Close-knit team: Gone are the days when the manager was the most important employee at a football club
There will be a lot of this now that
UEFA have given the owners an excuse to say no. Time was that the board
alone took responsibility for resisting the manager’s wishes. It was an
executive call and the chairman had to front up. Now the big chief hides
behind bigger chiefs.
‘We are avowed proponents of UEFA’s
financial fair play agenda that was this week reiterated by Michel
Platini, something we heartily applaud,’ read Henry’s statement to fans.
‘We must comply with financial fair play guidelines that ensure
spending is tied to income.’
And the extra 1million required to secure Dempsey from Fulham would have influenced that how
Are we to seriously consider that
Liverpool are within 1m of being thrown out of Europe, or that the club
do not employ one business brain capable of moving numbers between
columns to satisfy UEFA over such a comparably inconsequential sum
Leeds used to be the under-investors'
alibi, now it is Portsmouth. ‘We don’t want to end up like Leeds,’ the
chairman would note sagely, as if there was no middle ground between
taking a 100m punt with money you don’t have and managing steady
‘What has happened at Portsmouth
demonstrates the need for prudence,’ it is now added, as if correlation
exists between investing money without strings attached, and giving and
demanding repayment almost in the same breath.
The Manchester City project would be
grievously flawed if Sheik Mansour was only loaning, rather than
gifting, a portion of his vast wealth. Unreasonably swift owner
reimbursement killed Portsmouth; not thoroughly reasonable ambition.
Supporters love to believe they are being consulted and that is what Henry’s open letter offered; the illusion of a partnership.
Keeping a close eye: Liverpool owner John W Henry was forced into releasing a statement this week
Henry was ‘as disappointed as anyone’
that Liverpool could not find another striker. The difference being that
he had the power to influence the process, while just ‘anyone’ didn’t.
Indeed, little of what Henry said stood up to much scrutiny.
‘Spending is not merely about buying
talent,’ he added. Oh yes it is. That is all it is about. What else is
there to spending, other than the acquisition of talent
The talent can be groomed for the
future, or come ready to start next Saturday. But there has to be
talent. If not, what are Liverpool actually buying
‘These are the first steps in
restoring one of the world’s great clubs to its proper status,’ Henry
insisted, ‘there is a clear vision at work.’ No there isn’t.
What is clear about stating a
preference for a young manager, and then appointing 60-year-old Kenny
Dalglish; or buying a player for the British record transfer fee, Andy
Carroll at 35m, and then appointing another manager, Rodgers, whose
preferred style of play would plainly find no role for him
Where is the vision in letting Carroll
go on loan for a paltry 1.5m payment, without finding an adequate
replacement This isn’t a plan, it’s a grope in the darkness.
Rodgers said he would not work with a
director of football, but has instead seen a committee of transfer
overseers installed around him. David Fallows and Barry Hunter have been
recruited from Manchester City as senior scouts — they are not yet
available for work, but one presumes can answer a telephone and give
advice on the QT — while Michael Edwards is Liverpool’s head of
analytics. There are now a lot of voices in Henry’s ear.
Taking its time: Steven Gerrard and some other reliable Reds have looked unsure of themselves
The deal for Joe Allen from Swansea
City took longer than expected because of an internal debate over
whether he was worth 15m, and somebody told Henry that Dempsey was too
old to command 6m, and it wasn’t Rodgers.
This is another consequence of
financial fair play. /09/04/article-2198312-14B0AC15000005DC-266_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”Similar struggle: Andre Villas-Boas” class=”blkBorder” />
Similar struggle: Andre Villas-Boas
Abramovich was years ahead of his
time. Thanks to Platini, the era of the owner-manager has arrived. Henry
did not much fancy Dempsey at 6m, so did not make any great attempt to
sign him, yet Rodgers’s input could at least be detected in buying
Allen and Fabio Borini.
Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham,
would appear to be taking the practice a stage further. The most forlorn
plea of the summer came from his manager Villas-Boas.
‘The window should finish at the
beginning of the season,’ he said. ‘It’s extremely unfair for players,
clubs and managers as they prepare.’
Of course, the transfer window could
as good as finish at the beginning of July, no matter the actual
deadline. It just needs a club to do their business early, something
Levy will never sanction in case he misses the sniff of a deal. So he
holds out on Luka Modric until the last moment, and signs Dempsey and
goalkeeper Hugo Lloris so late that they miss the game with Norwich
The deal for Joao Moutinho becomes
such a scramble that it does not get done at all. Funny that,
considering he was the one player Villas-Boas appeared to covet.
And where is Villas-Boas in
Tottenham’s recruitment policy It is hard to say. He got Mousa Dembele
from Fulham, but did not start him against Norwich. Now Villas-Boas says
there is no guarantee Lloris will get straight into the team, provoking
immediate talk of discontent from France, where the former Lyon
goalkeeper has joined up with Didier Deschamps’ national squad.
Villas-Boas’s behaviour suggests the players he did get were hardly priorities.
So did Levy want Lloris and Dembele so
badly that these deals were struck ahead of that for Moutinho; or did
he not really fancy Moutinho, dragging his heels until the transfer was
Obstructions including a 15 per cent
slice of third-party ownership were blamed for hindering the Moutinho
negotiation, yet a way to avoid that would have been to get the process
started earlier, when Villas-Boas joined, and when there would have been
months, not hours to iron out the wrinkles.
Welcome to the world of the
owner-manager, where your pound buys more — or less if some suit in the
back office doesn’t like what he’s seen on YouTube.
Swearing isn't caring
The most bizarre view advanced at the Paralympic Games concerns cyclist Jody Cundy and his furious, expletive-strewn reaction to being disqualified from the one-kilometre time trial. Apparently, it showed how much Paralympic sport matters.
To pursue this logic, a foul-mouthed outburst directed at the referee during an Under 11 football match this weekend is merely a demonstration of passion and reveals junior really cares about the outcome.
Sledging from some pot-bellied slip fielder in the Sunday fourths would be another example of a sportsman announcing the importance of his sport. As we know, this isn’t true.
Treating the officials or an opponent with basic courtesy and respect does not mean you care less. Belligerence does not mean extra significance. In the search for meaning and message at the Paralympics, some people need to emote less and think more.
Temper, temper: Jody Cundy turned the air blue at the Velodrome after being disqualified
It's a sad state of affairs
When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson
conceded defeat, saying Real Madrid was the player’s great love and he
could no longer obstruct his dream. Now, three years on, Ronaldo says he
is sad and the club know why.
Despite his protestations to the
contrary on Tuesday, he is believed to want to up his wages from
13million annually to nearer 25m.
Seriously, if it is not enough to
earn tens of millions playing for your favourite club, who are also the
Spanish champions, sadness might not be your problem. It’s time to pack
Uncertain future: Cristiano Ronaldo claims he is unhappy at Real Madrid, but hasn't explained exactly why
Man, we love City
UEFA may not approve of Manchester City but they are not above making a
few quid off their back. The first issue of Champions magazine this
season had Roberto Mancini on the cover. This time last year it was the
newly acquired Sergio Aguero. What would UEFA have done to promote their
tournament with its tired elite, repeating the same old fixtures, if
City had not come along
Arsenal will meet Olympiakos in this season’s group stage. Just as they did in 2011. And 2009. Fascinating.
A true Blue Yeah right
Following his hat-trick against Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup, it is no
surprise that Colombian striker Falcao of Atletico Madrid is being
linked with a switch to England.
‘It’s very likely,’ said his father,
Radamel Garcia. ‘He has always wanted to play in the Premier League,
ever since he was a boy he has loved Chelsea. I spoke to Falcao
yesterday. The release clause in his contract is about 43million, but
he doesn’t want to talk figures.’
No, he very much sounds the loyal
sort. And not at all opportunistic, which is nice. (/09/04/article-2198312-14C6D660000005DC-649_634x413.jpg” width=”634″ height=”413″ alt=”Give me a hug: Radamel Falcao has, his father claims, loved Chelsea since he was a boy” class=”blkBorder” />
Give me a hug: Radamel Falcao has, his father claims, loved Chelsea since he was a boy
Big money but no big crowds
Hulk, the Brazilian striker, has gone to Zenit St Petersburg for a fee
of 32million. A similar sum was paid for Axel Witsel from Benfica this
Yet Zenit’s last home gate for their
match with Rubin Kazan was 20,500, roughly the average for Nottingham
Forest this season. Last season’s mean was 19,687.
No doubt Michel Platini will take
great delight in telling his new friends in the east that their numbers
do not add up; or maybe he won’t.
Money movers: Axel Witsel and Hulk have moved to Zenit St Petersburg for about 60m
Same old argument
Roy Hodgson will quite probably be berated for his assertion that Frank
Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together. The difference is that
unlike Sven Goran Eriksson, who created this problem, he might be
prepared to coach such an arrangement.
Fabio Capello made it work, too, on
the way to the 2010 World Cup when he used them in different parts of
the midfield — Lampard guarding, Gerrard wide forward — in a successful