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Beautiful Game; ugly message
I’m not a huge football fan, but I broadly follow the comings and goings of the Premier League with mild interest whilst not being that passionate about it all.
Until now, that is.
It isn’t the spectacular season of 5000-1 outsiders Leicester City that has got me jumping up and down (great though it is to see an underdog come out on top), or the promising prospects for England in the upcoming European Championships. No, it’s the callous approach that the top clubs take towards their Managers. In any other context, the way Managers of the top clubs are treated would be considered as scandalous; and probably illegal, but it would appear that in football; anything goes.
Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that a career in football management is unlikely to attract the Steady Eddies and those that manage the top flight clubs know the score. Managers can fall from grace quite quickly, but even by football’s harsh standards some of the shenanigans at the end of the 2015-2016 season leave me speechless.
Let’s start with Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini, in the three years that he has been with the club has achieved an amazing record with a win percentage of 59.64%. Admittedly, money has been showered on him to build a formidable squad, but he won the Premier League in his first season, came close to doing so in his second season and in finishing fourth this season; his “worst” achievement yet, he still managed to qualify for a lucrative spot in the European Championships. Oh, and Manchester City won the League Cup this year.
But he hasn’t won more, so he’s been kicked out in favour of Bayern Munich’s wunderkind Pep Guardiola.
Let’s go across Manchester to Old Trafford where Manchester United have just booted out Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal had steadied the ship following the rapid departure of David Moyes who was in place for less than one year and who had failed to live up to Sir Alec Ferguson’s phenomenal record (win percentage 59.67% in his 20-odd years as Manager). United finished fifth this year in the Premier League, putting them just outside European Champion’s League qualification. However they did win the FA Cup, a significant honour, equalling Arsenal’s record number of wins in this illustrious competition. The very day that they won the FA Cup rumours were confirmed that United had “underachieved” this season and Van Gaal would be on his way. United have recruited Jose Mourinho, another totemic figure, confident that he will restore them to their rightful place, winning everything in sight. Mourinho himself was fired from Chelsea mid-season after a poor run of form but having won the Premier League the previous season.
Van Gaal’s win percentage was 52.43%, in a world where anything over 50% stands out as rather impressive
The question I ask is, “What is this teaching our kids?”.
From all of this would they take the message, “We really want people to strive for excellence, we set the bar high and are relentless in our pursuit to be the best we can be?”. Or would they take the message, “Unless you are Number 1, you are a failure. You get one chance, so get on with it". I rather fear the latter.
Contrast the cut-throat mentality of the modern game to the (hugely enjoyable) folksy portrayal of English football in a TV documentary about the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup I watched recently.
They call football 'the beautiful game'. I’m not so sure with the ugly messages it sends, and don’t start me on players’ salaries, diving and cynical fouls that is not beautiful.
And it certainly doesn’t feel like a game these days!