Former Boro favourite Mark Burke has agreed to write a regular column for miniboro.com giving his views on the wider stories surrounding football. This feature will appear as and when Mark has the time to contribute but we hope it will become a mainstay of the site going forward.
To kick us off this month Burkey reflects on the recent departure of former Boro and Forest boss Steve McClaren.
I was quite sad that Steve McClaren had left Nottingham Forest, not because I know him or have had contact with him but because again it just shows the beast that is football, how it chews people up and spits them out.
I thought I’d better be quick if I want to write about it because if I leave it a few days then no-one will read it because it will be old news, then I thought well that’s the point isn’t it? How quick football moves on, forgets, on to the next ‘hot’ topic.
A day on the back page, a line on the news, a few forums full of comment and then “what, Man City want to sign Messi? See you, whoosh, the football factory has switched its attention and focus elsewhere.
Steve McClaren was under pressure from day one at Forest but we know this because he was ‘tagged’ by the media, you know what I mean, a tag attached that will follow him wherever he goes, forever, it happened to Graham Taylor, Kevin Keegan and others, experienced, knowledgeable, real football people, tagged and burdened, so that wherever they went after that they faced an extra hurdle to convince the doubters that they still had the magic because their image was so tarnished.
Having watched many managers come and go over the years at different clubs in different countries I think being a manager is like walking into a pit of snakes, thousands of pairs of eyes, glaring, staring eyes all looking in the managers direction but averting their gaze when confronted, a whispering, plotting, scheming mass. Exaggerated deference and sycophancy out of fear for their own positions, when he’s gone, discussing every decision, every detail but just making sure he doesn’t hear.
Every manager knows this, as soon as he takes a job there are thousands who think he doesn’t deserve it, cant do it and believe they could do it better. Could they? No, of course they couldn’t, what is it about football that makes people who are not remotely qualified believe they could do a job better than a man who has lived it at the highest levels for 15-20 years?
Steve McClaren leaving Nottingham Forest is in someway indicative of this crazy new modern football, Internet, twitter, radio, television, NOW, NOW, NOW, everybody wants it now culture.
When the latest ’saviour’ arrives he had better do it quick or the momentum will build. Firstly the local radio show, a few callers question the manager, they question his tactical naivety (I love that one, excuse me sir, can you REALLY explain that? You said that the manager is tactically naive, explain it “err I don’t know he just shows tactical naivety, you know what I mean, he’s lost the plot, lost the dressing room, taken us as far as he can, all the standard stock phrases used to ‘hang’ the manager.
The media talking about the media that talks about the media.
You have the media showing a game, the media commentating on the game, the media commenting on the commentators who are commenting on the game, the fans on the forums commenting on the other fans in the forum who are commenting on the game. etc etc!
On and on it goes, round and round and back again.
I find it incredible, all of this, this a mad, mad carousel that goes around and around and has a real effect on the people in the game by some form of osmosis, it seeps into the consciousness, even reaching the chairman who begin to sense it, react to it, worry about it and sometimes act on it.
I think that on one hand its great that the fans can interact but I think sometimes it goes too far I even know one chairman who employs a person specifically to monitor fan websites from their club.
I find this all relevant to Steve McClaren’s sacking because it shows the power of the media. Even before Steve McClaren took the job he was interviewed for other jobs but apparently turned down to fan pressure, these fans didn’t want him at their club due to his spell as England manager and the tag he picked up and will maybe never shake off.
A nice headline, a rhyming headline, dreamed up by a young writer spending the last 20 minutes of the game thinking of a headline to go with the defeat, what can we use? what can we say? I know, I’ve got it!
I find it incredibly disrespectful to be honest and what is probably an office competition to come up with the best line hangs around a professional persons neck for the next 20 years. Buts that’s the game and everybody knows it, so accept it or stay out of it.
I remember watching that England game when we were losing at Wembley and thinking how the media would react, what would they focus on, obviously the manager would be slaughtered but what would their specific angle be?
I was pleading with the television for him to “please, please put the umbrella down, please, if we don’t win this that is going to be the image they’re gonna get you with! I bet we could all see it at home but he wasn’t really aware of it, should he have been? I don’t know but you can’t, as a manager, foresee everything and also tailor your actions to suit the reactions of others.
The manager walks in with his eyes open, he knows the score, I know and can hear people say, ‘what about the money they earn?’ ‘He’ll get another job, don’t worry about him’ and to some extent they are right, the reward at the top level are huge but the stick at that level must be like being punched by Mike Tyson, making you dizzy and thinking you will never recover.
The problem is football is all consuming, you become obsessed, I am sure now that Steve McClaren will go away and look at what happened, why did I do that, why didn’t I do that and will wonder is it all worth it?
Now he has stepped out this time he will also feel relief, why did I get so stressed about it, I met an old friend the other week who has recently left a job at a top club and I said bloody hell you look good! He was relaxed, fit, an easy manner about him. Three months ago you wouldn’t of recognised him, stressed, jumpy, tetchy, its the football business and what it does to you but you can guarantee that as soon as Steve McClaren gets another chance he’ll jump straight back into that snakepit and be convinced that this time he will silence the hissing.
It has always interested me when I was playing when a manager was ‘under pressure’ that the outside world is so fascinated by it, they talk about , “how long can he last”, the next game is massive”, `I’ve heard a rumour” etc etc, it’s like an invisible tsunami of rumour, gossip, it somehow seems to make life more exciting.
I saw something once that really shocked me when I was playing, a manager, an incredibly experienced manager, wealthy, fantastic playing career, managerial successes under his belt but under severe pressure at that particular moment, nervous, shaking, twitchy, all because he may lose this job, I was amazed, this manager had been the embodiment of self confidence and assurance and to see him like this really brought it home to me how the job can affect even a person you thought was as steady as a rock.
3-4 poor games is all it takes nowadays to start the machine rolling. Its a semi orgasmic tidal wave of gossip, “Ive heard he’s got a week” it feeds and feeds and more often than not the tidal wave breaks, the manager goes and then the next phase begins – who’s coming in?
Will he like me?
Another wave, not so exciting but still intriguing, while all of this has been gong on the players at the club carry on their job split into different camps, there are those who are gutted the gaffer has left, he bought them, he loved them, “what will happen to me now he’s gone?” Will I be moving, I don’t want to move, maybe he’ll like me I hope its X I heard he liked me”
Then there is the other camp who are elated, “thank f#$k for that” (I should say Thank “God” for that but you know that footballers don’t talk like that) I’m going to get a chance now, he was doing my head in, its a fresh start, come into training with a spring in your step, excited, waiting for the new manager to breathe life back into your career.
The time in between is a strange limbo period, somebody who is already at the club, a reserve manager, a youth manager or an older player is in charge and during this time the pressure is off for a short while as everybody waits for an announcement, its a case of ‘ok lads, lets get on with it and its a little bit like pre-season where the tension is a little bit reduced and there is an air of excitement around.
When the new man eventually arrives, obviously there are nerves on both sides while you get used to each other, one manager will come in and talk for 3 hours (yes 3 hours) about his methods, his views on football, footballers and generally the theory of everything, this manager talked for 3 solid hours and after that the players were left in no doubt as to the road ahead, absolutely amazing as the average attention span of a footballer is around 3 and a half minutes, another will come in and be very short, clear to the point so the players think hmmm, no messing about here.
The pace of training increases, players who were out of the picture before and coasting along suddenly come alive as they sense new opportunities. Its for this reason that’s its understandable at a late stage of the season, with a lot at stake and things not going well that a change of manager can work as the stimulus it gives, just a new face/voice can make all the difference although in the long term it may not be the the right thing.
So now, at Forest you will have your players who will be gutted he has gone and the other half looking for a new start under a new gaffer who may just “fancy me”.
NB: this article has also appeared on Sabotage Times
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