Friday, November 10, 2006

Under Pressure

For some reason, and I could be mistaken in this belief, it feels like more Premiership managers than usual are 'under pressure', that is to say, in danger of being sacked, or certainly have been at some stage since the start of the season. This season already Iain Dowie, Glenn Roeder, Gareth Southgate, Alan Pardew and Stuart Pearce have all had real question marks over the longevity of their respective tenures, Mark Hughes and Paul Jewell have underachieved in comparison to previous seasons and even Rafa Benitez endured calumnous doubts about his methods, and from within his own club at that.

Of those whose posteriors are least comfortably ensconced on their various hotseats, Roeder, Dowie and Southgate would appear to be the most at risk. This is by simple virtue of the classic football success hypothesis: namely, that the value of success in football is proportional to the expectations of the club and supporters involved.

For Roeder, there is a baffling variable: that of Newcastle United's curiously inflated expectations. Despite last bringing a domestic trophy to St. James' Park in 1955 and that year's FA Cup victory, the size and passion of the club's support means that what is now so long a historical trend is, nonetheless, unacceptable. Roeder's side are mired in second last place in the league, a position by no means untypical of much of their late 20th century history, but one which is a mirror image of where Newcastle's supporters believe a club of their size should be.

The memories of those runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997 linger on Tyneside, and for all the sympathy Roeder deserves for having to work with the odious Shepherd regime at the club, the former club captain is probably wisely priced by most bookmakers at evens to be the next Premiership manager to lose his job.

Like Roeder, Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate was appointed to his job without having gained the prerequisite UEFA Pro Licence which all Premiership managers are required to have. Southgate is currently operating under a three month dispensation from the Premier League, but the former England centre-half has not even begun the process of getting his A Licence and therefore would not be able to start the Pro Licence course until next summer. Middlesbrough hope the Premier League will look kindly on their willingness to allow the FA to allow Steve McLaren to break his Boro contract in order to take over the England job in Southgate's case.

Southgate's elevation to management is believed to have been helped by his contribution to the success of the latter season's of McClaren's Middlesbrough career, especially during the run to last season's UEFA Cup final, in which his leadership qualities were praised in the unlikely identikit comebacks achieved in the quarter-final and semi-final against Basel and Steau Bucharest. However, the marked deterioration in their performances since Southgate took over is thrown into harsher relief precisely because of the relative success enjoyed by the club under McClaren.

I say relative, because despite their exploits in the cups and in Europe, Boro were generally placed around mid-table under McClaren, and the famously loyal chairman, Steve Gibson, will undoubtedly provide Southgate with the time to bring the club at least back to that level, unless the Premier League board intervene first.

Iain Dowie probably had the most difficult job of any new manager this season. Taking over a club which had been as stable and as steadily run as Charlton Athletic had been for two decades under Alan Curbishley may have seemed like a straightforward task, but the influence of the departing man must have seeped into ever corner and back room of the impressively refurbished Valley. In many ways Dowie faces the toughest test of many of the struggling managers now: attempting to imprint his own vision on a club that is mourning the loss of what must almost constitute a family member, as well as now attempting to back them out of a desperate looking relegation battle.

The only consolation for all the embattled managers is that they are far from being alone in their plight.


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