In the entire history of football, the cult of the manager is a relatively new phenomenon. To put it into perspective, in the professional game’s early days, teams were not even picked by one man, but by committee. Imagine that. Picture, if you will, a dozen Harry Redknapp’s sitting round a table trying to thrash out a midfield formation.
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The England national team even worked that way until 1947, by which time, the sensationally named Walter Winterbottom, was trusted to work things out by himself. The evolution from that innovation to a position where one man earns around 11 million dollars per year, and whose every utterance is hyped up in every newspaper and radio show in the country as if they are a major celebrity, is quite a leap.
For all of the scrutiny the world’s top players are under, the cult of the manager has become overwhelming. The global fascination in each and every move, in the minutest decision, is massive. For the modern manager, every match is loaded with consequences. Every interview is analyzed. Every substitution is deconstructed. Every purchase has the potential to be a hammer with which to be beaten.
With the exception of two of the Premier League’s newly promoted teams, Norwich and Swansea, and the big surprise from Newcastle, virtually all of the other clubs have had moments during this season when the boss must have felt an almost unbearable weight on their shoulders.
This weekend in the Premier League was particularly trying for three of the managers whose positions mean constant pressure. Roberto Mancini did his reputation no favors with some odd behavior, as his team stumbled and argued while dropping vital points in the title race. Not even applauding a crucial goal in a vital game? What was going on there? The Italian was left sounding quite depressed, a little desperate even, at the end of it all.
Arsene Wenger was seething after Arsenal lacked motivation against QPR and suffered a setback in the jostling for Champions League positions. He is seldom as openly cross with his players but couldn’t disguise his irritation as he felt his team only had themselves to blame.
The situation with Dalgish is particularly complicated because it is hard to escape the notion that he is judged in a way that few managers are. The emotional attachment all Liverpool fans feel for Dalglish, as their most iconic player and a previously successful manager who was also the figurehead at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, there is goodwill there that no amount of bad form can ever extinguish. That makes it difficult for people to make non-emotional assessments on his tenure. Deep down, everybody knows that this kind of run would not be acceptable for almost anybody who is not Dalglish.
Clearly, management can be a painful vocation. Some people say that those at the top are paid handsomely enough to take that pain when it comes their way. But I find it difficult to imagine too many of these hard competitors, who live every day in such a bloodthirsty environment, go home after a humiliating defeat and look at their bank statements to feel better.