It has become a bit of a cliché that the ‘Premier League is the best league in the world’. And like most clichés, it is basically true. Few people in Britainwould argue that, in terms of excitement, passion and aggression, there is a better football league anywhere in the world. Many point to the brilliance of the Spanish game, and there can be no doubt that the current Barcelona side – in spite of not winning either the Champions League or La Liga this year – will go down as one of the greatest club sides in the history of football. Furthermore, the Spanish style of football revolves around deft touches, vision, precision passing and a marvellously applied ‘pass and move’ style of football. On paper that sounds better than the English game, however, it is the intensity of the Premier League and the aggression of our game which makes it so engaging.
In spite how brilliant our game may be, we are in the shackles of two mutually supporting and equally detestable enemies: the presence of (generally foreign) ‘owners’ of English clubs, and the unreasonable amounts of time new managers are given to be successful. The two things are undeniably related. A foreign buyer comes in, offers millions of pounds for a manager to build a decent squad, that squad is then less successful than hoped for, thus the only logical conclusion is to sack that manager and hire someone new. Back to square one. Whilst I have very little time for Kenny Dalglish every manager deserves more time than eighteen months.
Roy Hodgson, a manager who had taken Fulham to their highest ever Premier League finish, as well as going on a very successful European run which included a famous victory over Italian giants Juventus, was given just seven months before being sacked. Even Benítez who admittedly left by mutual consent, was more or less shown the door after failing to win the Premier League. However, he had guided the club to their first European Cup in over twenty years in a truly remarkable comeback in Istanbul, as well as only narrowly losing the Premier League in 2009 to seasoned campaigners Manchester United.
Club owners undoubtedly have more of an influence on the hiring and firing of managers than they should, and whilst the majority of these owners are foreign, the notable English owners have spelled bad news too. In spite of a brilliant campaign last year, Newcastle United have undergone a tumultuous five years with Mike Ashley in control of their club. This has included relegation into the second tier of English football and the loss of the iconic ‘St. James’ Park’ title – which has been replaced with the chic, classy ‘Sports Direct Arena’. Even worse, in the first three and a half years in charge at Newcastle, Ashley presided over the sacking of five managers – now you can understand why the Geordies want this ‘fat, cockney bastard out of our club’. In fairness to that particular chant, no part of it is untrue.
But without a shadow of a doubt, the single most influential man in English football since the Premier League era began has been Sir Alex Ferguson. He has had some great rivalries with other managerial giants: Wenger, Mourinho, and now possibly Mancini (though, frankly, he will be sacked unless Man City win every possible trophy next year). But the reason for Ferguson’s success is not just being provided with cash when he needed it, nor intimidating referees, not even ‘Fergie Time’. The reason Manchester United have been so successful is because they gave Alex Ferguson the one thing that no manager ever gets anymore. Time.
Ferguson became United’s managed in November 1986 – he didn’t win the domestic title until May 1993. How many Premier League managers at big clubs would get nearly seven years to win a trophy nowadays? And has it been worth it? Twelve Premier Leagues, two European Cups, five FA Cups and four League Cups later, we all know the answer.
This is not to say that all managers will be so successful, and sometimes it is right to part company with a manager who shows no promise at all – but it demonstrates just how important patience is in football. Many managers have the ability and footballing instincts to build successful teams, but until the owners and boards recognise that success can take a long time the beautiful game will continue to have an ugly face.