The job of the England football manager is sometimes referred to as ‘The Impossible Job’. Football managing careers usually end in failure. In the memorable words of words of Howard Wilkinson (former Leeds United manager) ‘there are two types of manager, those who have been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future’.
Managing Football Egos
Managing a large team diverse personalities is a challenge for any manager, footballing or otherwise. Different playing styles, egos, injuries, preferences, and expectations must all be dealt with on a day to day basis. Further, the eternal question of whether footballers are employees, or workers, or self-employed athletes has never quite been resolved*. To this end it can be difficult to sanction a misbehaving footballer. It is unlawful for a manager to withhold wages hence making fining a player legally dubious. Benching could, arguably, result in a constructive dismissal claim. Further, an England manager who does not play his star player and then loses an important match will run the wrath of the UK media for weeks to come.
During the Euro 1996 campaign, Paul Gascoigne made the front pages of the world’s press for the now infamous ‘dentists chair’ incident. Manager, Terry Venables, was heavily criticised at the time for allowing his players to go out drinking. In contrast, later manager Fabio Capello took a contrasting approach and was criticised by one player for creating a ‘prison camp’, even more so as England went on to lose badly during the 2010 World Cup.
Managing the Media and Football Press
The UK media is undoubtedly a cross for any England manager to bear. The players too are not immune. The lead up to this world cup has seen player, Raheem Sterling, subject to a series of negative stories in a way that could, potentially, have resulted in the long period of stress related absence in any other workplace.
Ex-England manager, Sam Allardyce, in 2016 found himself on the wrong end of a sting by one paper in which he was recorded allegedly advising a journalist on how to break the FAs rules. Glen Hoddle was forced to resign over alleged heresy. Would either of these exits be acceptable in a more usual workplace? Probably not. Allardyce was never (apparently) subject to a proper investigation by his employer, and Hoddle would have a very good argument under the Equality Act 2010 for discrimination on the grounds of his religious beliefs.
So tonight, at 7pm, when we settle down to watch England take on Tunisia in their first game of the 2018 World Cup, perhaps we should not be too harsh on manager, Gareth Southgate, if ‘The Impossible Job’ of getting England through to the next round proves to be just that – impossible!
*Footballers are probably employees of their clubs on the basis that: they work under the control of one employer; there is a mutuality of obligation between the player and the club and, crucially, they are required to perform the work personally – it cannot be delegated. In reality however the situation is a little more complicated by the fact that players have a great deal more bargaining power than would usually be seen in the normal employee/employer relationship!