Big Sam and the problem of being universally disliked

Date published: Monday 5th March 2018 9:41

When a club appoints a manager, his achievements are examined along with his win ratio, his training methods and his man-management. But in 2018, there’s one other important quality a manager needs to have and when it’s overlooked, things can quickly turn sour. What is it?


We all really want to like the manager. We want to enjoy the fact that they’re in charge of OUR club. The last thing we want is to have someone calling the shots who seems unpleasant, is miserable, arrogant, negative, stuck in his ways or even just horrible to watch or hear.

I realise this may appear shallow but you’ve got to remember the Premier League is a never-ending rolling drama, with every relationship and every character analysed, and in those circumstances, it is far from surprising that we might have an emotional connection to the boss, be it positive or negative or somewhere in between.

Tickets for Premier League games are expensive, despite clubs being awash with money, and managers and players are getting paid a small fortune. It has not gone unnoticed that everyone is getting rich except the fans, even though the fans are the only ever-presents in the football equation. Everyone else comes and goes. We’re still there.

Not unreasonably, this makes supporters more tetchy than they once were, feeling their loyalty is being exploited by those who do not share the ties that bind. And that sickens a lot of people. But you still go to the game because it is part of the ritual of your life. They are the flakey ones; you are the rock upon which the institution that is the football club is founded.

Back when top-flight football was cheap and no-one was a multi-multi-millionaire, it was a different dynamic. You’d put up with a lot more failure and tedium because you didn’t have that permanent mist of distrust and injustice hanging in the air.

But now we do and that’s why we must like the man in charge. If we don’t, then it makes us feel even more resentful of the situation. It feels like we’re being short-changed. We want as much pleasure for our spend as possible. We want the manager to bring value and be part of the entertainment.

If Sam Allardyce won every game, Everton fans still wouldn’t like him and would still be glad to see him sacked, in exactly the same way Newcastle, West Ham and Palace fans did. Those sets of supporters were given the ‘be careful what you wish for’ lecture by the usual media suspects who simply failed to understand that good football or bad football, it was the man himself they were against, the man himself they did not want in charge of their club. It really was that personal and that’s because your football club is a personal relationship, even if it’s just another pay-day for everyone else.

So when fans really dislike the manager, there really is no future in the relationship. For Everton fans. it is all the more galling for them to look across the park to see Jurgen Klopp provide such good value for his fans. They love how he is and that love increases their enjoyment on all fronts. It adds a thick layer of icing on their football cake. And it isn’t just about winning games, it’s more metaphysical than that; it is about affection and warmth.

A manager needs to be liked by the fans or risk spoiling their experience of every game, games they’re paying a lot of money to witness. Yes, winning a lot of games will delay the inevitable, but if you’re not liked by the fans then your tenure will be shorter. I suspect this will even be the case at Manchester United where the manager’s lack of joy seems to be mirrored by the team and is surely shared by some fans.

You don’t need to be a marriage guidance counsellor to realise that there is no love between West Ham fans and David Moyes and that everyone is just waiting for the divorce.

Look at all the likeable managers in the league. Klopp, Rafa Benitez, David Wagner, Chris Hughton, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, even owlish old Roy Hodgson and Sean Dyche. They’d all get the sack if there’s a string of terrible results across a few months – none are immune – but it would take a lot longer to happen and they’d still leave without a cloud of dislike surrounding them. You might argue that Arsene Wenger has only lasted so long because his fans like him as a person.

People have goodwill towards those managers in a way they don’t towards Moyes or Alan Pardew or Allardyce or even Mauricio Pellegrino at Southampton.

Huddersfield may well go down but Wagner will survive, largely because he is so well-liked. The same goes for Eddie Howe and Rafa at Newcastle. The Spaniard is the best example of this phenomenon. Even if he chooses to leave, the Geordies will still love him. Rafa is the anti-Allardyce and the perfect example of what a manager needs to be in 2018.

Last night on talkSPORT, Dean Saunders tried to sell the old idea that just being in the Premier League was the ultimate thing at any cost, regardless of the quality of the entertainment on the pitch or in the dug-out. But that’s just not true. Managers now get sacked for being boring and playing boring football. Fans want fun. Not just hanging on. And that’s not in any way unreasonable.

The truly modern manager understands all of this and doesn’t resist it. They know you have a duty to give good face, give good quotes and bind yourself to the fans, and equally not to speak as though you are eating slops out of a trough. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

John Nicholson

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