Football cliché bingo is a game that is far too easy to play. But the reason those well-worn lines, like “there’s no substitute for experience” are trotted out with such regularity is that they are largely true.
In life, as in football, sayings such as “a fool and his money are soon parted” provide a window on the world. And both these parables are as valid in the football club boardroom as they are on the pitch or in the City.
The goings-on at Blackburn and Nottingham Forest over recent months, culminating in the sackings of Henning Berg and Sean O’Driscoll, illustrate the point. New owners, successful in other walks of life, think the experience that amassed them untold wealth can pay instant footballing dividends. To some extent, they can’t be blamed. You or I would back our own decision-making if it had made us rich. But football really is another world.
When I worked for a football club, I saw for myself how it took wealthy and successful new directors a period of time to understand the completely unique world in which football operates. What Venkys have shown vividly at Blackburn is that, however much you think you know it all, experience matters. Having dispensed with respected, long-time football administrators available when they took the club over, their chickens have come home to roost. The most damning faint praise of their appointment of Henning Berg is that it made Steve Kean look like a good manager.
Forest’s owners took the opposite path, by actually listening to sound advice in hiring Sean O’Driscoll. Time will tell if their wealth and ruthlessness will propel them to the top as quickly as they’d like. But with Roy Keane in the frame I wouldn’t bet on it.
One owner bucking the trend (and his own reputation) for firing and hiring is Sheffield Wednesday’s Milan Mandaric. Three successive wins either side of Christmas have made a virtue of his patience with Dave Jones after a run of 15 defeats in 18 games, seven of them in a row. Whether Milan’s patience was to do with blind faith in Jones, a lack of available alternatives, or sound judgement we will never know. But he has long experience of running English football clubs, and made the unpopular but, as it turned out, perfectly-timed decision to dispense with Gary Megson a year ago. Wednesdayites, he deserves the benefit of any doubt.
Like bingo, football club chairmanship is a game of luck. But it is also a game of experience. Wednesday are only one win away from dragging the likes of Blackburn into the relegation mire. Most neutrals would be happy to see a brave decision to back a manager when the sack seemed the easier option rewarded with the Owls’ Championship survival. And most would put it down to experience if the “House” came down on Blackburn owners with a second successive relegation.