London – My dad laughs about it now but having his name against the record for the shortest managerial reign is no joke. I very much doubt Frank de Boer, having been sacked by Crystal Palace after four games in charge, is feeling too jovial either.
For those who don’t remember, Leroy Rosenior was holding his press conference on returning to Torquay United for a second spell while behind the scenes the club had been bought by new owners. He was fired later that day and even now people ask him incredulously: “Aren’t you the guy who got a job and the sack on the same day?” He smiles and nods but I’ve seen the toll it takes when a proud and hard-working football man is humiliated by people who promise you the world and then throw you off the deep end when it suits them.
And I’m not even talking about Torquay – that was farcical and just an instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dismissal which hurt my dad most came at Brentford where he took over when the club were in disarray but was told he had complete control because they had no budget and needed to develop young players. De Boer was also told to bring through players at Palace and the common theme doesn’t end there.
Brentford’s directors employed my dad because they wanted to instil a new style of play – a philosophy of possession-based, expansive and exciting football which Dad has always believed in. He believed he would get time to put his ideas across to the players and staff, and was challenged to make his name as a coach by transforming the club.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t realised how dire the club’s finances were and that his record signing would be “won” by fans who had entered a competition sponsored by a fizzy drinks company. No matter, he stayed and put heart and soul into his job because he believed in himself and his ideas. Things went well initially but then results changed and so did he.
He’d come home from work and be withdrawn and silent for long periods. I saw my dad change from a man who felt blessed to be doing a job he loved to someone I could barely recognise. After about four months he was sacked because the same people who hired him to reverse the club’s fortunes were scared to keep the faith they’d shown in the first place.
From all accounts, it seems De Boer was sold a similar pitch at Crystal Palace and whether you think the decision was correct or not, we have to ask the question is the process of hiring and firing managers on a regular basis damaging our game?
Surely most clubs invest a significant amount of time researching and deliberating over the appointment of a new man at the head of their most important asset – the team. And in doing so, they commit to his methods and authority – even more so when much was trumpeted about De Boer’s footballing philosophy and his ability to change and improve Crystal Palace’s playing identity in the long term.
Surely four games is not the amount of time needed in order for those ideas to bear fruit. There seems to be a lack of responsibility regarding the appointment process – chairmen/directors need to be clear on exactly what they want. If survival in the Premier League is a club’s true ambition every season then there’s nothing wrong in stating that case rather than talking about completely changing their playing identity.
The lack of stability does not only hurt the coaches who are fired. You may see an upturn in performance or even league survival but in the long term clubs are left with players on expensive contracts who were bought for big transfer fees by previous managers and are now surplus to requirements and unable to be moved on.
Maybe a managerial transfer window, where coaches cannot be sacked but are locked in with their playing squad for that period of time, is the way forward – at least the constant game‑to‑game speculation would disappear and players would know that no matter the result of the next game, the man in charge would remain for the foreseeable future. This would reinforce the authority of the manager and so make clubs think about who they appoint in the first place, creating accountability at all levels where bad results don’t just land at the manager’s feet.
The boardroom isn’t the only place where people get twitchy in a bad spell. I’ve been in dressing rooms where the manager is under pressure and there are unhappy players, because they’re not playing every week, undermining everything he says and does in the knowledge that with a couple more poor results he’ll be gone.
This is where the phrase “he’s lost the dressing room” comes from but it’s also football at its most cynical. Neither is it just in the Premier League. This is happening – League Two and National League level managers are losing their jobs at an astonishing rate. We despair about how few homegrown managers are coming through to work at the top level but how many are afforded the chance to really formulate and execute their philosophy when they are constantly firefighting and fear they are three games from the sack?
We all talk about a desire to see free‑flowing, exciting and expansive games at every level but I’ve seen my father forced to sacrifice his philosophy in order to hang on to the job at Brentford. In doing so, he lost authenticity as a coach in order to satisfy the short-term demands of surviving in a job rather than flourishing in order to stay employed.
It’s easier and quicker to coach direct, safety-first, percentage football that’s not great on the eye but gains short-term results as opposed to playing a technical, expansive offensive game that needs time and belief to succeed but improves and benefits players and clubs in the long term.
I fear the overall quality of our national game will continue to struggle while this short-term policy of hire and fire continues to dominate and if you don’t believe me go ask my dad or the many other coaches who’ve lost their jobs as a result of it.
The Guardian Sport