Under-pressure managers need the backing of the upper echelons – football has outgrown the idea that the success and failure of a club rests on the shoulders of one man
You take over at a club desperate for a trophy. You win the FA Cup, then the Premier League. The next season you're second in the league and in the quarter-finals of the Cup. Probably entirely reasonable, then, to wonder why most of the questions at your press conferences are about you losing your job – and also why you're the one to be answering them.
I personally find it hard to believe that Roberto Mancini has had to defend his track record before the media for the best part of 18 months, and to justify his position as manager of Manchester City. As far as I know the club has a chairman, board members, a chief executive officer and a sporting director. Where are their voices in all this? After all, it's ultimately their decision. Perhaps the dreaded "vote of confidence" has become such a cliche that they think it's better to say nothing.
However, I disagree. It's exactly in these times of pressure that the upper echelons of the club should gather around their manager. In the days of Premier League clubs collectively turning over billions and attracting intense worldwide media and supporter interest, football has outgrown the ancient idea that the success and failure of a club rests on the shoulders of one man. Chairmen, chief executive officers and sporting directors are there to support the manager and help relieve the pressure so that he can focus on what matters most: his staff, players, tactics, training and preparation. A modern club should be a collective effort in which the contribution of everyone involved matters, and everyone is working towards the same aims – not running their own agendas and going missing when on a losing streak, which seems to be the case with many top brass.
We don't need to look further than some select Champions League giants to witness a different culture. If Milan go through a rough patch of results, Adriano Galliani, the club's charismatic vice-president, quickly jumps to the head coach's defence. Giuseppe Marotta, the Juventus general director, answers questions almost daily relevant to the sporting performance of the club. When Paris Saint-Germain struggled to find form early in the season, their general manager, Leonardo, stood up for the club in the media, defending Carlo Ancelotti and his players. In Germany, whoever criticises Bayern Munich's manager criticises Bayern Munich. For some European top clubs, criticism seems to have a unifying effect. One day you may part company, but while the manager is there, back him – and back him 100%.
But to me, it seems that here in England the culture of "The Manager" is too ingrained in football. One man takes the glory, and the flak. However, when things take a downturn, instead of opting for the gamble of a mid-season sacking or ending up at the mercy of a predictable end-of-term managerial merry-go-round, maybe a bit of increased effort in support from the club's side wouldn't go amiss?
Much like a marriage, the intention of every managerial appointment is to form a union based on respect, success and longevity. Albeit knowing that it might be a bumpy ride, both parties set out on the relationship with an idealistic idea of harnessing it into a love affair. Thus it is sometimes hard to understand why, at the first real test, the two parties head for the divorce lawyers and not the counsellor's office.
Admittedly, the majority of breakups are triggered by the clubs. A string of bad results, breakdown of communication between manager and board, disagreement on the way forward (ie, the manager wants more transfer funds whereas the chairman says no) and the romance comes to an abrupt end. Sure, there are cases where a manager's position has become untenable and a change has to be made, but from my experience and understanding, with a bit more effort from the club very few struggling relationships are irreparable.
In the extreme pressure environment of the Premier League the keywords are support and shared responsibility. Time is surely ripe for more members of a club's management structure to be partly held accountable for the highs and lows.
A well-respected journalist recently tweeted something to the extent that the most capable and successful chief executives in football are those that you hardly notice. While I agree that nobody wants to see men in suits basking in glory when trophies are won, the public presence in testing times of a chief executive or a sporting director – typically the owner's (or the board's) eyes, ears and right-hand men at the club – would make life a lot easier for the manager.
Having a chairman or a club executive endlessly commenting on footballing matters is obviously not healthy. Yet their presence at press conferences, positive media comments about the general sporting situation, and encouragement around the team and the training ground cannot be a bad thing.
Managers will continue to come and go; however, I'm a firm believer that a publicly and privately supported manager is a better performing manager. Recently, over lunch with two managers, each (still) in charge of top league European clubs, I half-jokingly inquired on their rapport with their respective club owners. The first – probably representing the majority of his colleagues – confided that he heard from the chairman only after a defeat, when his hour-plus ordeal felt like a cross-examination. The other smiled and laughed: "My chairman also only calls me when we lose. Then he invites me over for dinner to cheer me up." Guess which one was the happiest – and the most successful?
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive, formerly the chief executive and sporting director at Monaco. He has previously worked as a scout for Grasshopper, Watford, Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover and Zenit St Petersburg and as sporting director for Fredrikstad.