Are we going too far when we call for the sacking of football managers? | Soccer


As Ole Gunnar Solskjær stands on the Old Trafford sideline with his arms folded and a stern face, there are few in the world who would want to swap places with him. His Manchester United side fell 5-0 at home to 10-man Liverpool and faced one of the most humiliating defeats in Premier League history. But all he can do is stand there, still in his technical zone, knowing that a whirlwind of name calling and criticism is heading his way.

Social media is already teeming with hurtful posts and comments, as pundits and journalists wonder if the end of the day is ringing for its time in charge. Well, not quite all. In the hours and days that followed, Solskjær’s former teammates refused to call for his head, sparking more reactions online as people question this bias.

Phil Neville, who played for Solskjær at United between 1996 and 2005, has gone further, attacking the desire to call on managers’ heads when the going gets tough. “We live in a time when it is considered quite normal to ask people to be made redundant, which I find absolutely unbelievable,” said the Inter Miami coach. “If you were in another workplace and walked into a store and said, ‘I want you to be fired,’ I think you would be reported to the police. “

This is not a new phenomenon, however. This week, Channel Four replayed their cult documentary Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job, which follows the former England manager’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign to reach the 1994 World Cup. Inside there are various references to the increasing pressure on Taylor in the press and among English fans. In a clip, supporters shout “Taylor out” at him from a few feet away as he descends the Wembley tunnel after a loss. In another, someone off camera yells at him to “do the press a favor, quit” as he does a TV interview.

In a premonitory scene from a match against San Marino, Taylor turns to a member of the crowd to remind him that he is “talking about another human being” as John Barnes receives boos from the English crowd and points out “the influence of the dailies” because of articles written in the past.

Graham Taylor and Paul Gascoigne in 1992. Photograph: Fiona Hanson / PA

Taylor was notoriously turnip-branded by The Sun, appearing on the front page with his head resembling the vegetable. What makes it so relevant now is that Steve Bruce said “it was hard to be called an inept cabbage head” in reference to a tirade of abuse he received as boss of Newcastle before being sacked.

If that can console Bruce – even if it is not a justification – the photoshopped images of his face on a cabbage circulating on social networks were not plastered on the front pages of the newspapers. It’s hard to imagine that happening nowadays, even though the Mirror turned Fabio Capello into Frankenstein’s monster in 2010 after the then-English gaffer told the media, “You create the god and you create the monster, right?

Harsh criticism still exists in the columns and reporters still call on managers to get their rewards, but the personal ridicule Taylor has been subjected to is increasingly seen as distasteful. However, Neville wasn’t just talking about the press and the pundits. His main anger was directed at online abuse. “Social media is an absolute cesspool for people who are just the lows of the lows,” he said. “It’s out of control. People probably don’t realize that the things they write hurt families and human beings. It’s not like United never lost 5-0. The only difference was that there weren’t a billion people on Twitter thinking they knew this, that, and the other better.

There’s no denying that social media is shaping the agenda now – and not just in football. Opinions are shared freely, creating waves of extreme views as stories are shared and become relevant. In the age of 24-hour managerial analytics, social media is fanning the flames in ways terrace chats and pub debates previously couldn’t. Incidents and results are less likely to be forgotten; the criticism is more scathing; and the reactions become more extreme.

The society and monetized nature of the football industry means there is less patience and more layoffs than decades past, but the stakes are higher and the potential rewards are greater. Neville’s claim that supporters shouldn’t demand the dismissal of managers doesn’t have much influence in the world of football, where the consensus is that supporters who spend money on their team have the right to have their say. What is certain, however, is that the distinction between professional criticism and personal criticism must be made, however dire a manager’s performance may be.

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