By Daniel Margrain
So yet another sacrificial lamb has been put to slaughter. The decision by the board of West Ham United Club to sack manager Slaven Bilic, is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the club I have supported for 45 years. I’m really angry and disappointed by the reaction of the club and our “fans” to Bilic in the months leading up to his dismissal.
Many of these baying supporters that were calling for his blood, are the same people who two seasons ago were praising his abilities and asserting he was one of the most hard-working, committed and inspirational figures to be associated with the club in its history. Competent football managers do not become bad football managers overnight.
There is no evidence, whatsoever, that a change of manager improves the fortunes of a team in terms of results on the pitch. Although it’s tempting to believe that the appointment of a Sam Allardyce or any other manager with a reputation of keeping clubs in the Premier League is based on hard evidence, empirically this is not supported by the facts. There is a zero line of causality between the fortunes, or otherwise, of a football club and the figure who happens to be at the helm of said club at any given time – none, zilch, zero, nada.
I find it incredulous that football fans and pundits alike continue to place so much emphasis on the supposed significance a manager makes in relation to the respective success or failure of a club. It is no coincidence that almost every season, the same big clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal etc – with the greatest resources at their disposal, challenge for the league title.
These clubs invariably win silverware not because of the manager but in spite of the individual who sits at the helm. That explains, why Avram Grant, for example, holds the worst win percentage of league games of all permanent managers (18.92%) in the clubs recent history, but also, conversely, came within a whisker of winning the Champions League with Chelsea.
Yes, there are anomalies – Leicester winning the league under Ranieri and Clough’s numerous successes with limited resources come immediately to mind. But that’s all they are – exceptions to the rule. It has always seemed peculiar to me that in all other walks of life, we apply the law of probability to our reasoning but somehow professional football always appears to get a free pass.
Football managers who work at the highest level are a bit like politician’s – both come and go with frequent regularity, but the fans and the voting public respectively are invariably the ones who end up picking up the pieces of the failed decisions made by others bigger than them.
If the board at West Ham end up appointing David Moyes as the replacement for Bilic, as has been widely reported, and the club start to pick up valuable points, that will not be because of the new-found “innate genius” of the former. On the contrary, as I alluded to above, the evidence would seem to suggest that a similar set of results would – given a combination of time and luck – have happened under Bilic’s watch anyway.
Moyes’ recent managerial record has been appalling and yet nobody in the media appears neither to want to point that fact out, or why a proven failure is regarded as a suitable replacement for somebody who knows the club inside out. In no other walk of life is failure rewarded to the extent it is in professional football at the highest level.
The management merry-go-round in the high echelons of the game amounts to one of the greatest protection rackets going – that if we were to apply the same reasoning to say, banking – people would rightly condemn. But somehow this scandal, when attributed to the professional game, gets conveniently overlooked by media pundits and the wider public alike.
How have we managed to arrive at a situation in which fans exult an extremely passionate, capable, committed and loyal manager like Bilic as a genius one minute, but at the next are baying for his blood? What kind of society are we living in that regards that kind of behaviour and mind-set as being in any way acceptable, never mind rational?
Why is it apparently beyond the capability of football supporters to accept that there is a correlation between the financial resources clubs have at their disposal and the success of the said clubs on the field of play? The appointment by the West Ham United board of Champions League finalist, Avram Grant, is proof positive that managers do not make a blind bit of difference to the success of a club.
But West Ham fans and fans of other medium sized clubs of the Hammers stature, continue to place what are clearly unrealistic expectations upon the shoulders of their managers. Slaven Bilic is clearly a sincere and passionate man who is devoted to the Hammers. It’s about time, the board and fans alike begin to get a grip on reality and put an end to this ridiculous game of managerial merry-go-round that is plaguing professional football.
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