United & The Stability Of Instability

Stability is a myth. F*ck stability, because instability works. Sir Alex Ferguson knew that in football, the only stability worth having is the stability of instability...

Last Updated: 27/02/14 at 11:22 Post Comment

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Like many people, I was brought up to think of stability as desirable.

Don't rock the boat, keep your head down, be on an even keel. All good. These notions are often instilled from an early age. Instability is never spoken of as a good thing. Instability means worry, it means you don't know what's going to happen, it means things might go wrong. But if life has taught me anything it is that sh*t happens - indeed, sh*t happens is the very nature of existence. Stability is impossible, instability is everything; it is the grist to the mill of life.

Clinging to stability as a virtue does not mean life is any less prone to go wrong. This is because stability is really an illusion. I was brought up to get a 'good' job and settle down because it was stable. But somehow a good job with a good pension always seemed phoney, a lie created to make you think things were going to be more straightforward and safe than they really were. I didn't buy it because I couldn't see how this was true and anyway, I was a bit of a hippy.

Being an advocate of the counter-culture had a lot of downsides. It's by no means a perfect way to live and it messes a lot of people up, but one thing it got right from the start was not to trust the philosophies of The Man, and primary amongst these was the concept of stability. Stability was a lie sold to the people in order to make them pliant for exploitation by those with more power and money. All that good job and a pension business always was deceitful and so it has proved in the 21st century. As all old hippies suspected, the safety and stability of a job for life and a good pension was a con and we called it right when we said it was an illusion and a rip off.

Consequently, I've always thought those who propagate the stability notion as a good thing should always be held at arms length and suspected of an ulterior motive. In football this is certainly true.

Perhaps uniquely in this country, stability is much vaunted by the football cognoscenti as a route to success despite all the evidence that in the modern era, stability is irrelevant to success. Stability is usually thought to be expressed through not having a high churn of managers and playing staff, but most of the clubs that have done well in the Champions League this week don't traditionally care for it at all. European clubs rarely have. They've always operated on a far more unstable model. No 26-year tenures, no six-year contracts for new managers. Rather, the likes of Real Madrid, PSG and others just get a man in to manage and if he's rubbish, they get rid. In fact even if he does well, they tend to assume it won't happen again and get rid anyway. Unstable, yes, but it doesn't matter.

In the Premier League, the least stable, Chelsea, a club that goes through managers and playing staff like a voracious carnivore goes through mince, has won everything in its least-ever stable period. By contrast, Arsenal, often said to be the most stable, haven't won anything for eight years.

Manchester United point to Sir Alex Ferguson's long reign as proof of stability working, but that is to misunderstand what Ferguson did. He knew the stability of his constancy could actually be a problem, so at the peak of his powers he would shake up the playing squad by undermining and getting rid of the biggest players. It kept a flame under everyone. If he could get rid of Mark Hughes, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam or David Beckham, then he could get rid of you. There was no safety. Be worried was Ferguson's message, not be stable. He knew not changing meant going backwards.

Stability is the enemy of success because stability quickly leads to stagnation and complacency. This is why the talk of replacing Ferguson with David Moyes on a long contract almost as a moral act designed to encourage stability was so wrong-headed. Gary Neville can say 'United stand against the immediacy of modern life' as much as he likes; it's a lovely, well-crafted phrase worthy of a political philosopher, but its sadly utter rubbish, partly because United don't stand for any such thing and never did. They were in the forefront of progressive change going back to how the club was funded through a privately operated share ownership scheme back in the 60s, and it ignores the fact that they have a history of spending big money to achieve big success quickly. But even if it as true, to say this like it's a good thing in modern football is a big mistake.

Now more than ever, in a fast-moving culture, not changing means getting left behind whether you like it or not. You soon drown by the tidal wave of the now. Moyes is the embodiment of what being safe, being negative, being defensive, being unprogressive brings to modern football. It brings failure. It makes you look leaden and inflexible. Just standing there trying to hold back the tide while boasting of some sort of moral superiority because of this belief in stability is delusion.

What these proponents of stability need to understand is that top flight football is all about today. The past is over, it's dead and gone. Tomomorrow? No-one knows about tomorrow; f*ck tomorrow. All we have have is right here, right now.

Play to win now, not tomorrow or some unspecified time in the future. Do what works. If instability works, and it often does, then go with it. Trying to make out you're better for not doing that is fighting a battle to win in a war that doesn't even exist.

In football, the only stability worth having is the stability of instability.

You can follow Johnny on Twitter.

And check out his new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, here.

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