Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Premier League Producers?

In 1968 Mel Brooks penned the now classic screenplay for The Producers. The satirical comedy tells the tale of two men who come together to make a Broadway flop so that they can close the show and run off with all the investors money. In other words, they want their project to fail.

Kind of makes you think of football managers in a weird sort of way.

Why? Well, when you get right down to it, the vast majority of football manager’s careers are built upon failure and getting sacked, and as a result getting compensated...

Over the last few years managerial sackings have hit an all time high or low depending upon your point of view. Last season, statistics from the League Managers Association proclaimed that the average football manager in England lasted just a season and a half or 511 days if you prefer. The average managerial role lasted for three and a half years back when the Premier League started in 1992.

While most eyes focus on all things Premier League, in actual fact the most pressurised division to manage a club in was League Two where the average master of the technical area last around 11 months.

The 2009/10 figures were the lowest of all time.

LMA chief executive Richard Bevan said: "It is disappointing to see another season with such significantly high numbers of manager dismissals across the four leagues.

"Sacking a manager creates instability and uncertainty and this season’s high number of dismissals reinforces how volatile an industry football is, especially for managers.  

"More worrying, is that the average tenure of those managers that were dismissed this season has reached an all-time low by comparison with other years. 

"In simple terms, managers are being given less and less time to deliver. This goes against both the theory and the reality - clubs who give their managers time are more stable and more successful."

The old chestnut that Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are the best managers in the game because they are the longest serving is usually brought up at this time.

But you have to ask the real question: Are they good managers because they were given time or were they given time because they are good managers?

Invariably the truth lies with the latter statement. Wenger and Ferguson are the longest serving managers in the Premier League because they are the best managers in the Premier League.

With those two gentlemen firmly ensconced in two of the top jobs in the game and are challenging for trophies every season, it leaves the rest just fighting to exist really.

This is where failure comes into it.

Most managers have no hope or chance of ever making serious money from trophy success in the game so failing at a club is the best route to financial reward.

In the movie, Max Bialystock encounters accountant Leo Bloom after another one of his plays flops. Bloom is urged to use some "creative accounting", the first use of the phrase in the modern language, and while doing so has a revelation. If they can produce a flop of a play and sell more shares than they need and the play fails on opening night they will walk away with all the investment as the insurance company will right it all off.

Eventually their best laid plans run a ground  when, against all the odds, their musical "Springtime for Hitler" becomes a smash hit.

If you take a modern look at the film from a strange angle through some dirty glass and use football in its place you can see some similarities.

In The Producers places we have agents and instead of a play we have football teams. The vast majority agents and their clients have no real chance of winning trophies and they both do better out of the deal if the manager is actually sacked.

When that happens the agent just advertises his client with the help of the LMA for the nest open position.
Just think about the EPL for a moment, whenever a job comes up the same names are always mentioned. Are these guys the only managers in the game? Or are they the ones with the best agents?

Liverpool have spent around £10 million compensating managers Roy Hodgson and Rafael Benitez over the last eight months with Benitez earning more compensation after he was unceremoniously sacked by Inter Milan last month.

Given that managers know that they may be sacked at a moments notice is it any wonder that they should look for serious compensation when they leave their post?

With Hodgson’s job on the line at Liverpool, Richard Bevan released yet another statement on the matter where he said that clubs were “scapegoating” his members.

League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan has urged clubs to stop "scapegoating" their managers.

And he suggested it might time for managers to undergo formal appraisals.

Bevan wrote: "In these, the strengths and weaknesses of how the football-side of the club is performing might be assessed against realistic expectations and previously, mutually agreed goals. 

"In any other sector, there is a recognition that the highest performing organizations are those who build winning organizational culture - shared beliefs, goals and ways of behaving - coupled with a long-term vision. 

"Yet, in football, there is an incomprehensible belief that the continued sacrificing of the football manager, the 'scapegoat' and installing another will turn around a football club's performance."

Under Bevan the LMA has become one of the most powerful organisations in the game. The usually release statements before or after every major sacking and it is somewhat ironic that as the association has become more powerful in fighting for managers rights that the life expectancy of managers have dropped.

Cynical people might almost think that managers are represented by the same agents and that the whole merry-go-round is all part of a bigger game that goes on unseen.

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, The Producers was made in 1968 and the last time England’s top flight had a season where no manager was sacked was in 1967.