Jim White

English football has lost all faith in stability

Jim White

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At the time of writing, the plans for the Stoke Sentinel’s Tony Pulis 16-page souvenir supplement were still up in the air.

But doubtless the production will be straight forward, without frill or artifice, getting to the point with minimum fuss, a route one publication.

Arsenal fans may disagree, but we’ll miss Pulis. In his tracksuit and cap he was the manager who most resembled a touchline dad, ranting and shouting his way through a Premier League season. In press conferences he always stood up, perhaps to convey a message of urgency and momentum. Either that, or he suffered from some vicious piles.

And now he has gone, the Premier League managerial landscape has altered irrevocably. With Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes also taking their leave from long-held sinecures, Arsene Wenger is now the only manager in the country’s top division who was appointed before 2010. Indeed, all the other 91 clubs in league football have changed their manager since Arsenal last won a trophy, in 2005. What an incredible statistic that is of a business that has lost all faith in stability.

After Wenger, the second longest serving top flight boss is now Alan Pardew, who has been at St James’s Park for 2 years and 157 days. Though if the rumours of his imminent departure swirling around Newcastle turn out to be true, at the start of the season the runner up to Wenger will be Sam Allardyce, who is just about to clock up two seasons at the Boleyn Ground. When the three clubs without managers have found their next man, 12 of our top clubs will be under the control of a boss who has been in situ for less than a year. So much for continuity. So much for longevity. So much for creating a footballing legacy.

Never in the history of the game have directors been as trigger happy as they now are. Sure, it could be argued that Pulis had taken Stoke about as far as he could, that his robust style of play needed to be refined if the club were to develop, that it was time he moved on. But on the other hand, it is hard to argue with the fact that he was largely responsible for turning the club around, bringing it out of obscurity into the top division and securing its position there.

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Stoke chairman Peter Coates in the stands

Sure, Peter Coates’s Bet365 fortune helped; Stoke were big spenders. Pulis, though, was the engine that propelled them there, the agitated conscience of the club, forever chivvying, expecting, demanding. He deserved better than being summoned for a summary sacking when he expected to be discussing transfer targets for next season.

His reign, though, can now be seen as an anachronism. These days not even winning the title is enough to keep a man in his job. We are much closer in this country than ever to the way these things are done on the continent. There, the director of football is the permanent appointment, the rock around which a club is anchored, the employee who determines the culture, policy and direction. The manager is a short-term freelancer brought in to put that blueprint into action. Then moved on in order to provide the director of football with something to do with his time.

So it is in England now. With Fergie, Moyes and Pulis gone, short-termism has finally won the argument.

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Chelsea celebrate the title in 2005

And what has gone on at Chelsea this last decade is probably the reason why. Nine managers at the Bridge have produced between them 10 trophies. Who needs continuity in the dug-out when you have a healthy transfer budget and a determined bunch of senior players? As Petr Cech pointed out ahead of the club’s Europa League triumph, managers have come and gone but the Blues’ dressing room has retained its stability. That is what has won them all that silverware. Not the boss, the players.

It is a reading of the game that runs contrary to what might be described as the Jose Mourinho theory. Largely propagated by the man himself, this suggests that the manager is the single most significant entity in any club. Mourinho and his acolytes like Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers talk at length about projects and culture, things which can only be inculcated into an organisation by long-term planning, continuity and an awful lot of touchline note-taking.

Not that Mourinho hangs around long enough to see such things come to fruition. Usually he has stirred up a sufficiently volatile hornets’ nest of unrest to have been dispatched from the topmost window well before we see if he is right. Though doubtless he would argue that the reason why Chelsea won so much after he left was because of what he built at the Bridge.

There is something in that. But these days the opportunity to build has become a thing of the past. When Fergie retired it was said that English football would never see his like again. Frankly, the way things are going we will be lucky again to see anyone stay in a Premier League managerial job as long as Pulis.

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I set myself the task of picking the best team from this year’s Premier League, which proved to me just how hard it is to manage a football club. Here it is:

De Gea (Manchester United)

Zabaleta (Manchester City) Koscielny (Arsenal) Vertonghen (Tottenham) Baines (Everton);

Mata (Chelsea) Carrick (Manchester United) Hazard (Chelsea) Bale (Tottenham)

Suarez (Liverpool) Van Persie (Manchester United)

Subs: Cech (Chelsea), Ivanovic (Chelsea), R Ferdinand (Manchester United), Fellaini (Everton), Cazorla (Arsenal), Walcott (Arsenal), Benteke (Aston Villa)

And the worst? Chosen as much for failure of hope and expectation as much as failure of performance, it goes like this:

Green (QPR)

Bosingwa (QPR), Samba (QPR), Bramble (Sunderland), Maicon (Manchester City)

Park (QPR), Allen (Liverpool), Tiote (Newcastle), Sinclair (Manchester City)

Jelavic (Everton), Pogrebnyak (Fulham)

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