Perpetual Crisis: Football Management

Perpetual Crisis: Football Management

September 2019 | Sport

The football season is still in its early stages, but already managers at top clubs are under pressure. Patience is a virtue.

Patience is a virtue. Yet nobody seems to have told football clubs. The football season is less than two months old, and multiple top clubs are reportedly on the verge of sacking their managers. The list of elite managers whose job is safe probably only has two names on it (Klopp and Guardiola), as well as a clutch of Italian clubs who only appointed new managers in the summer.

Different Priorities

Zinedine Zidane has been days away from the sack since his Real Madrid team's embarrassing 7-3 defeat to city rivals Atletico in a pre-season friendly. It has been a sharp fall from grace for the man who was being chased by all of Europe's top clubs after the 2018 Champions League final.

It's also not entirely his fault. Zidane spent the entire summer demanding the signing of Paul Pogba, a deal that proved to be unattainable, and turned down the alternatives offered to him by Read Madrid president Florentino Perez. That sounds unreasonable until you realise that Zidane wanted a new 8 to replace the declining Luka Modric. Perez's suggested alternatives were Neymar and a pair of 10s in Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek.

The loan of Dani Ceballos, Madrid's existing Modric replacement, to Arsenal is on Zidane though. As is the baffling sale of Marcos Llorente, a mistake that has been at the root of Madrid's defensive inconsistencies so far this season. Ultimately, Zidane had an unrealistic expectation of Madrid's financial might and ability to attract top players from clubs that aren't willing to sell. This has resulted in a midfield substantially weaker than last term.

The Blame Game

Another team that sold players without replacing them is Manchester United, whose manager also looks to be imminently paying the price for decisions taken above his pay grade. United are currently without a fit recognised striker after sending both their reserve strikers to Inter over the summer. They also lost two senior central midfielders, leaving them short in that department whilst Pogba is out with injury.

There are still serious questions about the suitability if Solskjaer for a club of United's stature. As a manager his only success has been in his native Norway. However, some of the greatest managers in world football have tried and failed over the last few years. It is clear that whatever issues exist at United are not the fault of the manager, who has done a credible job with a squad inferior to that of Leicester let alone the rest of the top six.

Form or Future?

At least the issues at United are clear, even if no one at the club appears to be interested at fixing them. The cause of the current situation at Spurs is anyone's guess. On paper, they have the third best squad in the Premier League by some distance. Yet so far, the whole has been substantially less than the sum of the individual parts. A lot has been written about Spurs' dire form since February which has persisted from last season into this one. The reasons for this poor run are frustratingly unclear.

Experiments such as Davison Sanchez at right back certainly don't help. There has been a lot of talk about Spurs' right back situation, but the real weakness is in midfield. Ever since Eric Dier's run of injuries started in December, the team have been frequently played without a dedicated defensive midfielder. That they've started shipping goals at an alarming rate is surely no coincidence.

Fortunately for Spurs, their form is improving. After a dire performance against Newcastle they've offered a decent attacking threat. At times, they were even fairly good going forward in their poor Champions League display against Olympiakos. On that occasion they were hampered by multiple players coming back from injury and a truly dreadful display from Christian Eriksen. It's just that their defence is atrocious.

Given how far Spurs have progressed since Pochettino's appointment, there is no danger in the Argentine being sacked at the moment. If results continue to be less than stellar then perhaps that could change but he will get plenty of time to turn things around. The general weakness of Spurs' closest rivals mean the time frame for improved results is longer than it otherwise would be.

A more likely scenario is that Pochettino leaves of his own accord. He's appeared unhappy in press conferences for some time, and is constantly being linked with bigger jobs. Pochettino's position has come under serious pressure and the prospect of him leaving is no longer unthinkable. In an industry where past performances count for little, this is a big change.

Written by Alan Chatfield