Guilt is an emotion we feel when we have done something wrong and realised it enough to regret it. I’m sure we have all been guilty of something. You might be guilty for yelling at your mom last week. Your friend might feel guilty for lying to his or her spouse. Your parents could feel guilty for promising to buy you a new car for your birthday but failed to keep their promise. Me? Well, yours truly is actually feeling guilty on numerous occasions for criticising a football club manager.
While that doesn’t sound like something people should be guilty about, but I couldn’t help feeling that it is a growing issue. Especially among the hardcore football fans who think they know better than the managers at the helm of their boyhood clubs. I had this conversation with a friend on Facebook, discussing the folly of former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and the current nightmare for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. Why do some managers take the heat for failing to keep the teams in the top half of the table, while others manage to stay afloat? Why do we think we can do better than the actual manager himself?
Club managers are humans too, and are prone to human errors. They have bad-hair days. They have good days where all it takes is for the other club’s players to suffer from a setback of horrific injuries and within thirty seconds, three goals are scored. There are also days when goalkeepers score goals from their end of the field. But these days don’t happen very often. Then when the club loses, the manager is subjected to a hurl of abuse from the so-called loyal fans. Why? As Michael Calvin said in his 2010 book, ‘Family: Life, Death and Football‘,
They are, he reveals, human beings, most have families, feelings and outside interests just like those who are so quick to criticise and abuse them in oafish songs, radio phone-ins, social media, poorly spelt bed sheets or good old-fashioned spittle-flecked abuse.
What about the days when the club won? There will always be a winner and a loser in a competition but nobody wins all the time. I remember Arsenal winning the 2003-2004 Premier League title, and were dubbed ‘The Invincibles’ because they didn’t drop a game. But that was it. Now they’re back to fighting their way to the top, occasionally slipping and sliding. Yet, we called Wenger names, sang ruddy songs about him, criticised his tactic and management styles, and demanding to know why he refuses to buy better players during the transfer window. According to Barry Glendenning, football fans should not be so quick to abuse and demonise managers (source: The Guardian).
Which is true, too! Have we walked a mile in their shoes? Have we thought about what else they do other than managing a club? They don’t just stand at the sidelines, barking out instructions at who should be covering which flank of the team. They don’t just stand there, looking on helplessly as the rival team tears his team apart like a high-powered paper shredder. They plan. They brainstorm. They get creative. Well, at least they try to. Managing a club is like managing a department in a company. You manage the resources that is your employees (players). You manage the resources (jerseys, football boots, training grounds, etc) that provide the ability for your employees to do the work for you. You manage their salaries, their job scopes (players’ positions, which roles work well with whom and which formation works well against their rivals), and their annual and medical leave (players are often hit by injuries, and it’s worse for those who suffer from recurring injuries).
Another common complaint fans have towards their favourite clubs’ managers are why are certain players given roles that are not their specialties. Time and time again, these questions surface in the newspapers or radio talk shows with fans demanding to know why a specific player was told to play as a midfielder when he was initially trained as a defender. These roles have specific missions and duties that players have to master in order to perform their best for the team. Forcing them to play outside of their comfort zone is a big N-O in football. Unlike employees in a multinational company, footballers don’t have all the time in the world to learn a new task and shine in it. But have we taken a minute to think and ask ourselves, “Why did the manager make so-and-so play in this role?” Do they have a reason for doing that? Perhaps if we understood the circumstances, we might not be so quick to make such ridiculous and hasty judgments.
There is always a reason for something, and no manager is going to tell the press that “he doesn’t know why he did it, he just did it for fun.” Since we have given a particular manager a nickname, then there is a name for us football fans too. We’re called the “Armchair Critics / Armchair Players”.