Luke Ginnell on an undoubtedly brilliant coach who may not always be the answer to everything.
Every football club has its problems, the exact types of which tend to vary depending on its status within the game. But from top to bottom, there is no club without a bespoke set of crises to be surmounted, whether it’s Barcelona’s transfer ban, Madrid’s delusional presidency, Arsenal’s injury woes or a lower league side’s battle to stay in existence. Football clubs exist in a perennial state of barely controlled meltdown, and for many fans, the obvious way to alleviate the situation is usually to demand that someone lose their job. Most of the time, that someone is the manager. The logic is simple: sack the gaffer, get a better one, problem solved. Genius.
There are rarely mass debates about systemic frailties at a given club that don’t centre around the head coach, who in the modern era of corporate influence in football is essentially a mid-level project manager. A fan doesn’t often contemplate the reality that their beloved team is, quite simply, not very good; a low or mid-functioning commercial entity. Or that they don’t have the money, facilities or infrastructure to improve from within. Or even just that other clubs do what they do well just that little bit more efficiently. No, they think, we’d be the best team in the league if only we had a better coach, or if the players just tried a little harder. Why am I the only one who realises that? It’s a flaw that affects the logic of supporters across every level of football. After all, this is something in which we are deeply, perhaps unjustifiably, invested. Our perspective gets skewed by our unwillingness to find fault in what is essentially an extension of our own self.
Enter the notion of the managerial cure-all. Picture the scene at a club of your own choosing. After a few bad results and maybe even “the dreaded vote of confidence”, it looks like the incumbent has “lost the dressing room”. Media speculation is that he has “one game to save his job”, but this charlatan is a dead man walking. The names of potential heirs to the throne get bandied about with varying degrees of realism in the stands and on the internet forums. A consensus begins to emerge and a desirable candidate becomes the name on everyone’s lips. For the non-league fans, it might be the man whose team came down to “our patch” and played us off the park two years ago; for the lower-leaguers, it could be the ex-pro with a B Licence who never quite made it at Ipswich Town but was still a decent full-back in his day – very cultured don’t you know; for fans of average top-flight sides, it’s whatever flavour of the month happens at the time to be featuring heavily on Football 365 or Goal.com, maybe a guy who led a Belgian side to the Champions League group stage playing a high-paced possession game. For the elite, it’s Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan has become a panacea for almost every supporter and administrator of the underachieving, or even just plain impatient, among Europe’s highest-ranking sides. Why do we have this current joker? We should just go out and get Pep. He’d change everything. We NEED Pep.
And indeed, Guardiola might turn out to be the saviour of the blue/red half of Manchester, or the redeemer of London’s fallen petroclub, but what if he fails? Is that on his head, the best manager in the world? Or is it something deeper; a lack of talented players, a barren youth setup, a faulty transfer policy? Is it that the club has simply been outpaced by those around it? Is it just pure bad luck or timing? No, it’s probably the manager’s fault, no matter how good we thought he was. We should look for someone new, this lad hasn’t a clue how to adapt to the demands of this league; I hear there’s a guy doing amazing things with false liberos in the Dutch second division…
So far, Pep hasn’t failed. In fact, he has been exemplary to his profession, arguably the most tactically astute coach you’d care to mention. But he’s coming to England, and it might not work out, despite the seemingly universal belief on the part of Chelsea, City and United fans that his arrival would herald a one-click solution to every issue affecting their clubs. That eventuality would leave supporters with a tricky reality to face. Is it us?, they may ask of their club. Is that the problem? No, it can’t be. We just need the right man in charge. Currently, Liverpool fans are discovering something similar with regard to Jurgen Klopp, their latest Not-the-Messiah, against whom a mini-tide is already turning. Klopp is not just a silly boy, but some will be more than willing to shift blame onto him rather than confronting the spectre of mediocrity.
It’s likely that Guardiola will be a triumph in England, wherever he goes. But it’s worth remembering that so much of managerial success depends on timing, luck, environment and being surrounded by the right people. Pep is the best coach around, but he’s not the cure for every ailment. So let’s not blame him if things go wrong.
This article originally appeared in the excellent Grand Stretch In The Evening
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