Perhaps it is the lure of stepping into a role in which achieving greatness as a football manager has been sold as a distinct possibility; perhaps it is about not being able to reject a lucrative offer to rub shoulders with the self-styled super elite; or perhaps it is simply about believing in the myth of football as it traditionally was.
Whatever it is that draws some football managers into roles for which their previous posts and achievements may or may not have prepared them, it is impossible to ignore the obvious facts that too many appointments are the result of hasty board room decision making, whilst many others are simply ill fated from the start.
Roberto Mancini would know all about that. A successful manager who had won seven trophies in four years prior to joining Manchester City doesn’t suddenly become any less of a manager after a poor season with the club. Yet his inability to achieve the ridiculously ambitious targets set by the club’s unimaginably wealthy owners meant that he was, in their view, worthy of quick dismissal, and a bucket full of compensation.
Therein lies the problem. Too often a manager’s fortune is determined by his ability to deliver results which, in many cases, are highly unrealistic given the context; the context within which Mancini, and others like him, have been expected to deliver sustained domestic and European success, has been deeply flawed for years.
It is no longer about football. It is not even about any particular clubs. The clubs are important, of course, but only in the secondary sense that they are waiting to be exploited to satisfy the excruciatingly tough demands of the billionaire business men financing the game; it is about ensuring the relentless and inexorable march towards global market supremacy for their own individual brands, and on some occasions, it is also about drawing a glittering drape over the multifarious activities of their faceless business associates.
They understand that football clubs have the potential to become powerful global business machines, if driven in the direction that market forces dictate. They will quickly and ruthlessly change whatever they deem detrimental to their objectives, and do so with alarming frequency and coldness: more often than not, it is the manager who is sacrificed first.
But whilst the clubs themselves may be of secondary importance to certain owners and backers, they remain of primary importance to their supporters, as do the solid traditions and unbroken histories that have shaped their clubs over the generations.
That aspect is now disappearing from many clubs, and it will be very difficult to restore without completely reversing the deeply set trends of recent years. But to do that now would be to pull the rug from under the clubs that draw the big crowds and the major sponsors, destroying the very fabric of today’s game in the process. And it may also open up another can of worms that many in officialdom would rather ignore – that the definition of sporting integrity has long since been auctioned off to the highest bidders.
Mancini’s dismissal is symptomatic of how so many top flight football clubs in Britain have been ripped out of their natural community settings, and had their purposes altered, whilst most football managers, like Mancini, have remained firmly wedded to their traditional footballing ideals. The two purposes rarely fit together comfortably.
But if that is the unenviable plight of today’s football managers at the top of their game, then so be it; if that is the career they choose, they just need to accept it and get on with it. That said, I believe it is an indictment of the game that there are actually very few managers who have the ability to succeed at the very top these days; and sadly, those managers who may have stood a chance of succeeding, are seldom given sufficient time to try.