Big Lang Theory: In praise of patience


Poor old Roberto Di Matteo (who, of course, is actually neither old nor poor - especially after this week's events). His odds at Chelsea seemed stacked in his favour heading into this season. He won the Champions League last term. I'll say that again. HE WON THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. At a club whose whole being had ached for that trophy for, I don't know, EVER, you'd think that would elevate him to sainthood.

That success, remember, came at the ideal time, filling the coffers and boosting the club's image just when a creaking squad needed renovation. They had the money and the new-found pedigree to attract Eden Hazard to west London, and Oscar soon followed. Chances are they'll sign another superstar - maybe Rademal Falcao - in January. None of this would have happened were it not for Di Matteo. Even disregarding his immense emotional connection to the club - born of a laudable playing career at Stamford Bridge - his quickfire managerial achievements should surely have made him safe.

Yet Roman Abramovich, like a unicorn with a limp, moves in mysterious ways. He saw fit to swing his (not underused) axe following an autumnal hiccup in Chelsea's form. Admittedly, the Blues' current Champions League campaign has left plenty to be desired. But the very nature of the competition should mitigate any criticism; Di Matteo's side were drawn in a group with one of Europe's best sides (Juventus) and the experienced yet perenially underrated Shakhtar Donetsk. Lesser teams than Chelsea would have struggled. Their league form has wobbled too, but a first serious title challenge in a couple of years seems likely. Given the changes Di Matteo oversaw in the Chelsea squad over the summer, the decision to sack him seems like a bad case of knee jerkery. And just plain jerkery.

But Di Matteo is not the only coach looking for new a employer this week: Mano Menezes was sacked from the Brazil national team job on Friday. Menezes' stewardship of the seleção was, admittedly, not universally successful; early promise gave way to to old failings that culminated in a shoddy showing at least year's Copa América, while the 2012 Olympic campaign ended in disappointment. But the timing of the decision is questionable at best. Recent performances against Iraq and Japan were Brazil's best for months, suggesting that the future may be bright as the World Cup edges closer. The reintegration of Kaká, in particular, was masterfully handled.

The new coach will be named in January, and will only have five matches to prepare for the Confederations Cup - a key stepping stone as the seleção gears up for 2014. Will a new boss be in a better position to shape the side in that period? It's unlikely. Menezes was the victim of behind-the-scenes scrapping (CBF president and resident buffoon José Maria Marin allegedly wanted to install his own man) and, like Di Matteo, a lack of patience.

The short-termism at the heart of the modern game is hardly new, yet it continues to baffle. Examples abound of coaches who, when given the security of a reasonable timescale for achievement, get the job done far more effectively than do stop-gap solutions. Sir Alex Ferguson, Dario Gradi, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have all benefitted from job security over a number of years. Ferguson is a particularly telling example: he recovered from a shaky start that would have seen him sacked at many other clubs.

A revolving door policy creates uncertainty and instability, and forces managers into decisions that can damage the long-term future of a side. Patience may be a fading trait among those who run the game, but it - and not money, power, contacts or business acumen - remains the attribute most likely to generate success in football.

The knife cuts both ways, of course. Just ask Mark Hughes. He abandoned Fulham just before they blossomed into a top half team, citing the need for a challenge more commensurate with his managerial ability. 18 months and one high-profile sacking later, he probably wishes he hadn't been so rash. For individuals, too, patience is a virtue.