What the hell happened this weekend? I realise it’s hardly news to point out that the last remaining marbles of many football supporters rolled away some time ago, but the madness over the last few days has been staggering. There is panic at Anfield, booing at White Hart Lane and down at St Marys, there are whispers of a sinister plot.
Typically, the hysteria is most pronounced at Liverpool where the core of sensible, knowledgeable supporters are forever drowned out by the loons. A child could tell you that Brendan Rodgers is attempting to lay down a template of swift passing and intelligent movement and that swift passing and intelligent movement is REALLY DIFFICULT. Otherwise everyone would do it, wouldn’t they? A child might also tell you that Liverpool have finished seventh, sixth and eighth in the last three years and no longer have their snouts in UEFA’s Champions League cash trough. Defeat to Arsenal is not a surprise. A point against Manchester City, on the other hand, is very surprising. As for the West Bromwich Albion debacle, that’s the kind of ‘fubar’ that every team experiences at some point in the season.
As for Spurs, just imagine the changes since Harry Redknapp was replaced by Andre Villas-Boas. They’ve gone from an affable cockney who liked ‘to put smiles on faces’ while leaving clipboards blank, to an officious Portuguese who specialises in dossiers, DVDs and has a tendency to speak of things like ‘vertical’ passing. In ‘Red Dwarf’ terms, they’ve gone from Dave Lister to Arnold Rimmer. Those players are not going to settle quickly. We used to give managers a couple of seasons to get their feet under the table. Not anymore.
And it’s not limited to new managers. Nigel Adkins has presided over a short period of extraordinary success at Southampton, dragging the club from the old third division to the top flight in successive seasons, and yet on Sunday he woke up to stories questioning his future. Apparently, Harry Redknapp is in line to replace him, because that’s exactly what you do when you return to the Premier League after seven years away; you re-hire the man who got you relegated from it in the first place.
Perhaps part of the problem is the success of the Football Manager games, a subject I know a little bit about. In Football Manager-land everyone remembers how they won the league with their local team, how they scooped up ‘wonderkids’ and built a squad that sat astride Europe like a God. No-one ever talks about the time they lost their first three games and switched the laptop off in a huff. I love Football Manager more than most, it’s practically a work of art. But it is still a computer game. In real life, managers have to walk into dressing rooms and talk to real human beings, with attitudes and egos and fears and anxieties. The manager controls the destiny of the players. While he remains in charge, he alone dictates the path of their career. Football management, perhaps more than ever, is relationship management. And relationships take time to form.
This is real life. These are real people attempting to hone and shape truculent groups of young men under extraordinary public and private scrutiny from above and below. This is real football, a glorified chaos where the width of a post can win or lose millions. Some men can deal with this, some will excel at this, some will be found wanting. There is no set time to judge them, no industry standard of patience, but I can tell you right now, they deserve more than 270 minutes. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand football and I’m very much afraid that you’re embarrassing yourself in front of everyone.