If there’s a commonality between Manchester City’s FA Cup failure and Chelsea’s Europa League success, it’s the empty, futile call to support managers who clearly not longer (or never did) fit their clubs – the appeal for stability in the wake of modest accomplishment, an argument that rest more on nostalgia than the realities of the modern soccer world.
When news broke of Roberto Mancini’s impending dismissal at City, the general reaction was surprise that a man, one year removed from winning a Premier League title, were to be let go. Manchester City needed stability, the chorus sang as Txiki Begiristain affixed the brooches. And with Rafa Benítez, the addition of another major trophy has already lead to main stream coverage’s reflections on whether the former Liverpool man has earned the permanent job at Stamford Bridge.
There’s a strange element of contrarianism in both these views, as on the surface, it seems pretty clear why both Chelsea and City would be willing to move on. Or, put another way, it’s unclear why either Mancini or Benítez would be good bets to meet their clubs’ 2013-14 ambitions, whether you judge their capabilities on current or historic results. Going back to Inter, Mancini’s results have always been those of a well-supported man who can win when things when fortune broke his way. Benítez, at both Valencia and Liverpool, proved capable of challenging for big things, but he’s so far removed from those accomplishments, it’s almost as if the current visage is completely different coach – an insecure performer unable to adapt after a crowd figures out his only trick.
The commonality between the pro-Mancini and pro-Benítez views is an inability to come to grips with modern-day soccer – a state of play in which, much to the chagrin of many who follow the game, players, managers, and executives are held to a standard commensurate with the outlay of their owners. Perhaps supporters of Benítez and Mancini see a world where absolute accomplishments are sufficient, in which case a second place Premier League finish and a Europa League trophy are good enough for any manager. But Sheikh Mansour didn’t this so much money into City to see the Citizens fail to threaten Manchester United. And Roman Abramovich’s ambitions need no explanation. Their managers will always be evaluated relative to their owners’ ambitions, and in that respect, there’s little wonder why Manuel Pellegrini will be hired by City, just as José Mourinho will rejoin Chelsea.
At some point, people who follow (and cover) Chelsea, City – or, for that matter, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, or any team who can keep up with the world’s other huge spenders – need to adjust their world views. When you’re spending enough to have one of the most talent teams in the world, it’s nowhere near good enough when your team doesn’t perform to that level. ‘Why didn’t you compete for the league title? Why didn’t you go better in Europe?’ If there aren’t good answers to these questions, you’re likely gone.
And rightfully so. It’s not that you need to win everything. No owner’s that naïve. But you need to have the squad performing to its capabilities. You need to have trophies taken from you, not given them away. So when City’s boardroom sees their squad never threaten Manchester United, or Abramovich sees his team fighting to stay in the top four rather than threatening for first, they can’t help but wonder: Could somebody else do better?
Pellegrini? He probably can. Mourinho? He’s proven he will.
But this isn’t about comparing managers or the tough decisions boardrooms have to make. It’s about the narratives sounding these managers. The reality is that both Benítez and Mancini, despite their accomplishments at their jobs, have failed to get their immense talent to perform commensurate with expectations. They knew the expectations doing into their jobs, and as they Eastland and Stamford Bridge, their heart of heart will know they’ve failed to meet their chairmans’ goals. And just as acutely, they’ll know other coaches with better resumes are ready to take over their jobs.
If they want, pundits can go on and on about stability and the need to give a manager time, but Pep Guardiola won Champions League in his first season at Barça. Mourinho won in his second year at Inter. Roberto Di Matteo was an interim when he won Champions League, and Jupp Heynckes is only in his second season at Bayern.
At some point, everybody needs to accept the realities of the modern world are not motivated by nostalgia. If I’m paying for a title contender and you say you can give it to me, you’re damn right you’re going to be fired if you come up short.