“Football is a simple game complicated by idiots!” – Bill Shankly
What a wonderfully accurate sentiment that is as true now as it was then. Keep things simple. Don’t overcomplicate. Sound advice in any walk of life.
Liverpool and Spurs need to take note
Liverpool and Spurs need to take a long look at those words of wisdom. Last season Brendan Rodgers and Mauricio Pochettino were two of the Premier League’s brightest young managers. Liverpool came within a slip or two of winning the title and Southampton were a revelation under the Argentine manager.
This season tells a different story. Both men are under differing degrees of pressure. Performances are below par and questions are being asked about playing staff and transfer policies. The adage that a manager lives and dies by his players couldn’t be more salient.
Brendan Rodgers and the committee of complication
But now more than ever, one must question, “whose players?” Who chose the recent signings at either club? A transfer committee? A director of football? It is here we discover the complication. There is apparently no simple and straight-forward answer.
At Liverpool, transfer policy needed to change after a litany of poor, over-expensive signings. A director of football and several differing managers had varying degrees of failure over a number of years at Anfield. But rather than simplify the process, greater minds (The Fenway Sports Group) decided to add further variables to the equation with the creation of a transfer committee. A managing director, a technical director, a recruitment director and Brendan Rodgers.
“At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.” – Bill Shankly
Without even being aware of the process, obvious questions would be along the lines of who is choosing what players are required, what players are to be scouted, who decides who is signed, who is sold..? The questions go on and on. Even if Rodgers is heading the committee, he is being influenced to some degree. After all, he is only one quarter of the group. Human nature suggests that because he is not the only decision-maker, he is not the only decision-maker.
Therein lies the problem. If Rodgers is being judged on his players, the teams performances, yet he isn’t exclusively able to choose HIS team, how can he be held accountable for their failings? He can’t! It is a collective failure of a failing system. But football dictates that the manager takes the fall. What does football know?
So to Spurs and the signings they have made over the last 18 months. I won’t list them as I haven’t listed Liverpool’s. The failings are well documented elsewhere. Again, how much say is Pochettino having in player acquisition? Again, if it is little to none, how can he be held responsible for the failures?
Andre Villas-Boas left the club under a cloud of doubt and uncertainty. A wretched run of form and an allegation that players he didn’t want were forced upon him led to a poisoning of the relationship which ultimately resulted in a bright, young manager leaving Spurs.
Franco Baldini, Spurs’ director of football, has been responsible for player recruitment, but is he working above the orders and requests of the manager, as he apparently was when Villas-Boas was ‘in charge’? If so, it is a failure of process and communication. Again, it will probably lead to the demise of another young, talented manager.
Pochettino makes his point?
It speaks volumes that the Argentine has brought in Harry Kane. Yes, it was slow development for Kane in terms of game-time, which appeared to demonstrate reluctance on the part of the manager. Spurs fans wanted him in sooner, but Pochettino eased him in naturally as a young academy graduate. By going to the academy, at least the Spurs manager can choose HIS own players.
Complimentary to this point, could Pochettino be underlining his doubts about the transfer hierarchy at Spurs by continuing to play Roberto Soldado? A player who is the personification of a failed policy. A player for which crazy money was paid, despite no Spurs manager actually wanting him. A player who has been lost in the crossfire between a series of managers and the Baldini/Levy combination.
In stark contrast, Chelsea and Man City have made a success out of the director of football role. Indeed, if you must have one, these would be the models to follow. Michael Emenalo at Chelsea and Txiki Begiristain of Man City have both ensured that in recent times, transfer business has been done in an efficient and timely manner, with targets being acquired at the earliest possible moment. Their work has been in tandem with their respective managers. There are clearly defined roles and lines of communication between both parties and procedures in place to ensure that the players that are scouted are the players that the manager really wants. That is the difference.
The legends teach by example
Shankly, Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson did not stand for any challenge to their overall control of the playing staff side of the club, let alone allow an over-complication of transfer activity. The reality is that by introducing another layer of people into the business of recruitment, you are simply adding complexity to something that has already been perfected over time. A manager recognises what his team needs. He consults with his assistant and scout. The scout goes out and finds what the manager wants him to find. The manager sees the player, signs off on the player, deal done. All the chairman needs to do is write a cheque. Simple.
Anything outside of these rough parameters introduces another variable and another potential point of failure. A manager must have his own team. People that he knows and trusts. People who know him, how he works and what he is looking for. Streamlined and straightforward. Communication and a working relationship without agenda or hierarchy in any favour other than that of the manager’s. Otherwise a manager is potentially being allowed to fail without having the basic courtesy of being able to choose his own tools.
Back to basics
Liverpool and Spurs need to go back to basics. Rather than throwing more money down the drain, they need to hand control back to two managers who 12 months ago were being touted as the new generation of excellence.
Let a manager pick his team, his staff and his players. Do away with these ridiculous, failing systems and processes and let the head man get on with doing the job that he is paid to do. To judge either manager on the failings of others is a failing in itself.
Brendan Rodgers is famously quoted last season:
“Look at Tottenham. If you spend more than £100 million, you expect to be challenging for the league.”
This quote has so many layers in the here and now, you couldn’t make it up…