With the domestic season complete, save for a handful of play off games, this weeks football stories have been dominated by the men on the touchline.
Some have been sacked, some have been kept, and one has chosen to take up the seemingly poisoned challis that is the England job.
This weeks first managerial casualty was Aston Villa’s Alex McLeish. After arriving from Villa’s arch rivals, newly relegated Birmingham City, it was always going to be an uphill task to win them over and I remember scratching my head at the time, questioning if this was the right move for Villa after Gerard Houllier’s frankly depressing time at the helm. In my opinion, Randy Lerner has got to make a bold move this summer as I think it is crucial, both for the club and for his own reputation with the Villa supporters, that they can find a manager capable of re-energising the club. I can completely see why Villa fans are fed up.
Martin O’Neill was doing a fantastic job for them and probably took them as far as they could go without more financial investment, yet when O’Neill asked Lerner to put his hand in his pocket to try and get them up into the top four, the relationship between manager and chairman soured. Since Martin O’Neill, now at Sunderland, left Villa Park a series of costly managerial appointments have seen the team slide in to decline, finishing this season just two points outside the relegation zone, picking up three points on just four home outings under McLeish.
I was full of hope for Villa when their American owner came in and O’Neill was in charge. They had good, youthful players like Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor was getting called up to the England team and Olof Mellberg was still an absolute rock at the back. Fast forward 6 years since he took over and im starting to question if he knew what he was getting into when to bought the Midlands club.
Owning an American Sports Franchise is a vastly different kettle of fish to an English Football Club, as with a franchise you are party to revenue sharing, which means that when a Green Bay Packers jersey gets sold, every team in the NFL, including Lerner’s Cleveland Browns, gets a percentage. This, combined with tight salary cap restrictions, ensure a level financial playing for all NFL teams which ensures a different looking standings table year in year out.
Player recruitment in US Sports is vastly different also as on the other side of the Atlantic players are traded (swapped) instead of being purchased for crazy amounts of money. This combined with the fact that the team who finishes bottom of the standings does not get relegated, instead they then get to pick the best youth player being drafted the following year, which usually means that teams only spend one or two seasons at the bottom and rise up again, whereas it is a long way back from the Championship, just ask Leeds.
Im not sure Lerner has realised how much financial input you need to be a success in the Premier League, and I worry that if the next manager is not up to standard then the Villa fans might start calling for changes in the boardroom as well as the dugout.
Speaking of club owners who don’t realise what running a football club entails brings me along nicely, if not rather predictably, to the Indian chicken farm running Blackburn Rovers, the Venkys. The Venkys have been widely reported to admit that they didn’t know the club could be relegated when they purchased them. It now appears that they have simply purchased the club as an advertising vehicle used to sell chicken, for anybody who hasn’t seen the advert, search for it on youtube and have a right good laugh as Paul Robinson and co tuck into some chicken. The most cringeworthy part of the video is the voiceover, “Blackburn Rovers, proudly owned by Venkys”.
I am absolutely certain that there is not one single Blackburn Rovers fan out there who is proud of the fact that the club that Jack Walker built is now owned by this particular chicken farm. The fans at Ewood have been protesting against the clubs ownership and manager Steve Kean for over 12 months now, yet Kean remains in a job and there is no communication from the clubs owners to the fans in any way shape or form. It is also clear that the Indians don’t want to listen either, given that the club’s chief executive was fired after it came out that he asked the owners to fire Kean.
I think Steve Kean has been put in a terrible position by the owners and been left on his own to face the music. Somebody who knows football would not give the former reserve team manager at Coventry City a Premiership management position, and whilst I believe Kean has conducted himself with dignity during the season I think it is now time for his own sake and reputation to step down and leave the owners to it.
So whilst one manager gets a team relegated and keeps his job, one who wins a trophy and reaches a cup final but doesn’t have the best league season, gets fired.
I think enough has been said and will be said over the coming days about the last days of King Kenny at Anfield and so ill try and keep it brief. After the impact Kenny Dalgish had at Anfield in dealing with the problems left behind by the previous American owners, it was hard to find any reasons why you wouldn’t give him a season to see what he could accomplish. In the end I think a mixture of bad luck and a couple of bad choices in the transfer market cost him his job. Liverpool had the worst goals to chances ratio in the league this season and drew far to many games, especially at home and in the end it just was not enough to justify giving “The King” more money to spend this summer.
Liverpool, along with Villa, are not going to attract a top drawer manager with a big reputation this summer so they must now act quickly but carefully to make sure they get the right man. Ive heard people talking a lot about Andre Villas Boas, he might prove to be a good manager in time but I don’t think that him and Liverpool make a good match, which might mean that fans of Swansea, Norwich or most likely Wigan, might be seeing a change in their own dugouts too.
One thing I do think Dalglish has managed to accomplish is to reunite the club and point it almost in the right direction. I would like to think that this is how his second spell in the Anfield hot seat will be remembered in time because Kenny Dalglish, the player, the manager and the man deserves the utmost respect.
Kenny’s predecessor at Anfield, Roy Hodgson named his first England squad this week and as with any England squad named by any manager for any major tournament, it is not to everybody’s taste. Maybe there are maybe a couple of players I would have personally taken that didn’t make the cut but I really don’t think the squad would look to much different whoever picked the team, even Harry Redknapp.
I like Roy Hodgson and I really believe he will turn out to be a good appointment by the FA. I think he has been forced into a little bit of a corner with this squad selection as I would like to think we will see more youth being given a chance, with the players who have flattered to deceive in an England shirt being phased out. However, with the tournament only one month away, and with just two friendly games to assess his best team, now is not the time to change to whole team and use untried players and Roy has said so himself, remaining loyal to a lot of players who got England through qualifying.
During Wednesdays press conference it seemed like the questions regarding the situation regarding John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were never going to go away yet I think Hodgson’s handling of the situation was superb. When they eventually asked some questions about the rest of the squad he defended his selections with answers that were to the point and hard to argue with. I also think it was a nice touch of him to allow 3rd choice goalkeeper, Norwich City’s John Ruddy, to miss the friendly games with Norway and Belgium for his wedding, things like that are smart management as it should help gain respect and trust with the other players in the squad.
Next season I expect to things to be a different story, Ray Lewington and Gary Neville joining the coaching staff excites me and I expect to see a new generation of England players gracing Wembley Stadium. This summer however, we will be the remains of the so called “Golden Generation” turn out in a major tournament one last time before Roy, Gary and Ray shake things up. I really hope the likes of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Defoe can pull off a massive shock in Poland and Ukraine but as the song goes,
“Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before…”