Over the past two weeks the blue and the red sides of Manchester have proved to be the perfect example of how football has changed over the past twenty years. While Manchester United was being commended for sticking with Sir Alex Ferguson for twenty six years, City was being derided for sacking Roberto Mancini after only four. These four years did return three trophies (if you include the Community Shield) but in the modern world of football, lapses like those witnessed during the 2012-2013 season, can't be tolerated.
Even before Fergie decided to hang up the hair dryer United's decision to stick with their manager was regarded as an example of how to run a football club and evidence that consistency breads success.
This sounds nice and all but it ignores Real Madrid. In the past 27 years Los Merengues have had 24 coaches; in that time they've won one more European Cup, two fewer league titles and two fewer domestic cups (Copa del Rey or FA Cup) than United.
Let's look at some other European teams. Since Ferguson took over United in the middle of the 86-87 season Ajax have won ten Eredivise titles, one Cup Winners Cup, one EUFA Cup and a single Champions League title. Over this time Ajax had appointed 18 different managers, many of them interim. The Dutch champions might not be on United's level but that's still an impressive haul.
Off to Italy next. In the same time frame current Italian champions Juventus have gone through 15 managerial appointments (Lippi coached their twice). In that time the old lady of Italian football has won seven Serie A titles; nine if you include the two removed due to the Calciopoli scandal. There's also the Serie B title, two domestic cups, a EUFA Cup and a Champions League final victory to count (they were runners-up three times).
None of these examples include trophy hauls the same size as United's and what Ferguson has done to take Manchester United from where they were to where helps to makes him the greatest manager ever. However, they do prove that managerial inconsistency doesn't equate to failure on the pitch.
Chelsea is the team most often held up as an example of how not to manage a football club. Since Roman Abramovic took over at Chelsea in June 2003 the club has gone through ten managers and in those ten years the Blues have picked up thirteen trophies. At the time of writing Rafa Benitez is still their manager.
In that time Manchester United have picked up 17 trophies. Yes, 17 is more than thirteen but the way that some sports journalists have been writing, changing managers as often as Chelsea should have made their success almost impossible.
In many of these cases the new Chelsea manager has gone on to have instant success. Jose Mourinho won both the League Cup and Premiership title in his first season; Guss Hiddink won the FA Cup in his short time in charge and only lost one league game; Carlo Ancelotti didn't waste time either and won a league and cup double after taking over from Hiddink; Roberto Di Matteo picked up both the FA Cup and Champions League in his first and only season in charge before being replaced by the Europa Cup-winning Rafa Benitez.
Maybe the reason for this bias towards consistency is that managers are held up as being more important than they really are. I remember Sam Allardyce, then manager of Blackburn Rovers, saying "It wouldn't be a problem for me to go and manage those clubs [Inter Milan and Real Madrid] because I would win the Double or the league every time." Now, I'm not suggesting that's true, but I am sure that the off-field teams at both those clubs, along with their financial and commercial might would mean that any damage Big Sam could do would be minimal.
Back when managers first came into football their sole purpose was to act as a lightning rod for the fans by taking attention away from a club's owners. Clearly, since then the role of the manager became more important. But, with a move to a more 'European' football club structure a manager's role has lessened and the idea of a club's 'vision' doesn't have to rely on the guy wearing the big coat in the dugout.
I'm sure managerial consistency plays some part in a club's success. Players like to know who they will be playing under before they sign a new contract and even if you look at this financially, as Chelsea are well aware; changing managers is an expensive business. However, I don't believe that the reason for United's success was club's managerial consistency; it was that the manager they stuck with was great ever. Would fans of such a method believe that a bad manager should be kept for these reasons? I'm not saying Arsene Wenger is a bad manager, but I'm sure there are plenty of Arsenal fans who think a change has been much delayed. Who knows, maybe United would have performed even better if over the past twenty six years their managerial role call had been more varied. How would United's trophy cabinet look if they'd been coached by Lippi, Mourinho, Hitzfeld, Van Gaal, and Scolari?
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