Studies Show That Football Managers Are, Well, Insane

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

The headline isn’t (completely) true, but it might as well be.

As a fan, it’s easy to misunderstand all of the ups, downs, and everyday stresses of a football manager.

At first glance, many might look at the job of managing the likes of a Manchester United, Real Madrid, or Juventus, or one of the elite national teams and think of it as one of the most envied jobs in the world.

But, on second glance, it should make you happy that Football Manager is just a game.

As a manager, one day you can be the toast of the town, and the next you can be packing up your belongings.

One big win can make you, but one big loss can break you.

And sometimes, even your best isn’t good enough to keep your job, for one reason or another.

With any club, there are expectations to fulfill, players to keep happy, and board members to satisfy. But, with a top club or national team, those things are magnified tenfold. And for some, there’s the issue of keeping the hot seat toasty until the next best thing becomes available.

Whatever the stresses may be, it’s not as comfortable of a life as it would seem to be.

Take, for example, managerial life at Real Madrid, where you are assured of nothing (so rent or lease, and don’t buy, because you’ll have to pack everything up just when you’d gotten it all unpacked). Vicente Del Bosque won seven trophies from 1999-2003, including two La Liga titles and two Champions League titles, but was fired the day after Real locked up the 2002-03 La Liga title.

Real languished through the next three seasons, and went through five coaches before settling on Fabio Capello (who had led them to the ’96-97 La Liga title), who promptly proved to be a one-year wonder again, as Madrid won the championship on the final day of the season and then just as quickly saw Capello out of the door, just like Del Bosque. Those two, world-class managers were caught in the crossfire of board-room politics that shouldn’t have anything to do with what happens on the field, but in some cases, unfortunately does.

For a fairer example, take a look at Sir Alex Ferguson, who is one of, if not the most, well-known and respected (read: admired and hated) managers in the world. But, he could have been just another footnote in Manchester United history had he lost just a couple more games early in his tenure in Manchester.

His first three seasons at United were anything but spectacular, especially in the league, with two finishes of 11th sandwiched around a runner-up finish in 1987-88. His fourth season, 1989-90, wasn’t much better, as the Red Devils finished 13th in the league, which very well could or should have been red ink on his pink slip. But, what likely saved his job was an FA Cup run that featured an unlikely third-round win over Nottingham Forest and then a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in a replay for the title.

That one trophy proved to be a turning point, as United won the Cup Winners’ Cup the next season, the League Cup the next, and finally got United their first league title in 26 years in 1992-93.

From there, Ferguson has restored United’s lofty reputation (and then some) and got knighted along the way too.

But, even he is not immune to criticism, especially from 2003-06, when United went without a league title and couldn’t make it past the second round of the Champions League.

He can no doubt commiserate with his former assistant manager. Steve McLaren after his first few games in charge after taking over for Sven-Goran Eriksson last year, when the Three Lions’ performances were anything but awe-inspiring.

But, fast-forward to a year later, and England is pulling off 3-0 wins with regularity and on the brink of qualification for Euro 2008, which was in jeopardy at one point.

But, as with McLaren or any other manager, even when you’re doing well, at least one person is going to be unhappy.

Either you aren’t winning by enough, you’re not getting the best out of one of your stars, or someone has issues with your selections.

People don’t care if you’re dealing with injuries, or if you’re in a rebuilding phase. They want to win, they want to win right now, and they want to win pretty.

You can’t please everyone, but as long as you please the people who are responsible for keeping you employed, then you can sleep soundly next to your Slovakian mistress/babysitter/maid Svetlana – until the press finds out and roasts you over an open flame.

One can only imagine the amount of kicks to the head someone has taken before deciding to become a football manager. If you’re harboring dreams of managing, and you read this, I hope it scares you right back to your computer or Playstation.

But, look on the bright side – I hear Sir Alex is pretty generous with the fine wines. And that’s a good thing, because you’ll certainly need it.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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