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Managing the Manager

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So it's goodbye to AVB. The latest Chelsea FC manager to be pushed through the exit door, Andreas Villas Boas, had only been in post since June. Yet a deafening silence on the part of the club's hierarchy when questions were asked about his future after a string of poor results has been followed by decisive action. The club has sacked their manager, even though the club might yet progress in this year's European Champions' League and qualify for next year's tournament.

As so often, football has thrown up a story with much wider implications and interest than the fate this season of one particular team and one particular employee. The question of how to manage the managers is a preoccupation for board members (and shareholders) everywhere.

Football is in many ways a unique business sector. Its finances are often unorthodox, as any fan of Rangers and Portsmouth is uncomfortably aware. Even more importantly, key decisions are driven by the passions that the game arouses, as well as the desperate craving of owners, and fans, for trophies. It's often a matter for wonder that hard-headed and successful business people seem to lose their ability to make sound judgments once they take control of a football club. The beautiful game can be cruel and humiliating, putting mistakes in the spotlight, whether they are made on the pitch, or behind the scenes.

A vital question for everyone who controls a football club is how to maintain a long-, or even medium-term strategy when results are disappointing, and pressure builds up in the media and the fan-base to make a change at the top. History shows that, usually, nerves snap. Panic sets in.

But surely it would be better for those in charge to show more determination to stick to their guns - as well, perhaps, as to take more care over the recruitment of managers in the first place. It is no coincidence that the most successful club of the past twenty years, Manchester United has retained the same manager. Across the city, their long-time rivals chopped and changed with monotonous regularity, and little success. Only since new and strong-minded owners took control has a degree of stability been achieved - and results have improved dramatically.

Directors and owners of any business can find it all too easy and convenient to give in to short-term pressures when trying to manage their managers. Often, they end up making a manager a scapegoat for their own failures of judgement. Sometimes this can result in a rapid "shot in the arm" as a new boss makes a quick impact. But often that impact is short-lived, as Wolves' thrashing by Fulham yesterday illustrates. It makes much more sense in the long run to work out a strong business plan, recruit accordingly, and give sufficient time to allow the people you have trusted to turn the business around a real success.

Easy to say, of course, and much more difficult to achieve in the high-pressure world of top-level football. But Chelsea are now looking for their eighth manager in eight years, and despite colossal investment, they are falling behind their main rivals. To make so many changes in such a short time does not look like strong management, but the opposite. The team's dismal, and deteriorating, results illustrate better than anything else the dangers of short-termism at the top.