Talking Sport: Managers need time to realise success

Celtic manager Gordon Strach­an, a man more noted for talking in riddles than rational thinking, nevertheless made a very sensible statement last week.

Managers, he said, should be given until the end of a season before being dismissed. Similar to the transfer window for players there should be a “sacking window” for those in charge.

The recent ousting of Chelsea boss Luis Philipe Scolari and Portsmouth gaffer Tony Adams, after six and three months in charge respectively, certainly lends weight to Strachan’s argument.

In the case of Chelsea the appointment of Scolari last summer was seen as a major achievement. Here was a man with a proven track record at both club and international level, a World Cup winner with Brazil no less, and also somebody who had snubbed the English national position in the past.

Having begun the season with a bang, and had the media purring at the attractive football being played following the stolid fare produced under his predecessor Avram Grant, a few dropped points at the turn of the year and Scolari suddenly had to go.

The facts show that Chelsea are currently in the last 16 of the European Champions Cup, the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and only seven points behind Manchester United in the league. Just not good enough.

It could be said that Grant was even more shabbily treated, having lost last season’s league title by a mere three points and been a missed penalty kick away from European success. But for the small matter that both managers pocketed the tidy sum of a few million in severence payments, you could almost feel sorry for their predicament.

What clubs continually do not grasp is that you cannot guarantee success either by breaking the bank for players or adopting the conveyor belt mentality where coaches are concerned. England’s most successful manager of all, Alex Ferguson, went several seasons in charge before winning his first trophy with Man Utd. The second most successful, Arsene Wenger, has endured a patchy time at Arsenal but sensibly there are no calls for his head.

Chelsea have now, at the apparent behest of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, gone for another proven manager at club and international level, Dutchman Gus Hiddink. Bizarrely, the appointment is on a part-time basis, with Hiddink combining the job while coaching the Russian national team at least until the end of the season.

If Chelsea fail in at least two of the ensuing trophy battles presumably Hiddink, too, will be dispensed with. Heads will stay firmly in the sand and the to- ing and fro-ing will merrily continue.

Strachan is absolutely right with his plea for common sense. Having invested so much in people who are believed to be best suited to a position, clubs must then give them every chance to make a proper impression. Otherwise they will win nothing and the Sir Alex bandwagon will roll steadily onwards.

Staying with the football world, it is good to see two players hitting the headlines for the right reasons this week.

Firstly Man Utd’s Ryan Giggs, an old-style one club man who has graced the game for almost 20 years, is performing as well as ever and has been tipped to win England’s player of the year award for the current season. That would be richly deserved.

Secondly came the stunning comeback of Arsenal’s Croatian forward Eduardo, who suffered a horrific leg break almost a year ago. It is obviously good news for Eduardo, but also must be heartening for Birmingham’s Martin Taylor whose tackle, bad though it was, subjected the defender to some prejudiced criticism.

The phrase “gallant in defeat” is one which could have been invented to describe the Scottish rugby team.

Following the Six Nations opener against Wales, when the Scots lost 26-13 at home and were lucky to get away with that deficit, they performed much better on Saturday in Paris.

This time round a 22-13 scoreline hugely flattered the victorious French, as but for an abundance of errors and referee-ing shortcomings the visitors would surely have prevailed.

The game raised several talking points, not least the selection policy of coach Frank Hadden. Fielding loose-head prop Alistair Dickinson out of position on the other side of the scrum and flanker Jason White in the more unaccustomed role of lock forward was a calculated risk which did not pay off.

More worryingly, Hadden was left with no proper replacement when regular lock Jim Hamilton suffered an injury early in the match. The much lighter Simon Taylor was moved further for-ward which meant at least a five stone deficit in the boiler house.

To their great credit the Scots were no worse after Hamilton was replaced, which raises the question of whether his 20 stone bulk is worth persevering with again anyway.

The tactics of Hadden are increasingly perplexing, as he only appears to learn after elementary mistakes which people with even an ounce of rugby knowledge can spot immediately.

I’m a big fan of the West Indies cricket team. Always have been. So it has been good to see them putting up a good show in the current tests against England, although as we went to press it looked as if the visitors would square the series at one-all.

The West Indies victory in the first test, not surprisingly, prompted much wailing back home about “humiliation” and “a disgrace”. Pundits far and wide were desperately searching for excuses for England’s abject performance, citing, among others, the continued unrest over the sackings of coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen and the distraction of big bucks to be earned in the forthcoming IPL 20-20 series in India.

With all these background influences, it was not the best environment to give your best show, said former England captain Graham Gooch.

Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but was West Indies win not partly down to a sustained and blistering fast bowling performance by Jerome Taylor, with excellent support from his quickie colleagues? Four years ago, when England’s Steve Harmison similarly ripped through an equally fragile West Indian batting line-up, it was all about the bowler and not the van­quished.

Meanwhile, it is highly embar­rassing the way the English media often dismiss the opposition as being all flair and no technical nous, with a certain Sky com­mentator being a case in point earlier this week.

Was any time ever spent discussing tactics in the West Indian dressing room in your time Mikey? he asked fellow commentator Michael Holding, or words to that effect.

Holding, to his credit, merely answered in the affirmative, when he could have been excused for grabbing the microphone and stuffing it down his colleague’s throat!

Jim Tait


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