PDC’s sacking: (3) Culture club or the Animals?

John McCormick:
John McCormick: reading the vacancies page

John McCormick writes:
Neil Carter’s The football manager, A history was published in 2006. Carter makes it clear that short managerial stays have been part and parcel of the professional game for longer than we’ve been watching it: even before the war “the intensification of competition brought with it managerial insecurity” (it’s an academic book, you have to expect this language); between 1945 and 1960 over 600 managers left their clubs; between 1973 and 1993 an average of 17 new managers arrived every season; by the start of the Premiership the average tenure had dropped to 1.5 years. We’re par for the course, with fifteen managers, including caretakers, between 1973 and 1993. The last six years are not unusual and, from this perspective, Di Canio only had about a year left unless he achieved something.

Carter’s book traces the development of the football manager in the context of relationships – with directors, players, fans, and the media – and highlights an evolutionary process, from upper-crust committees or directors making all of the decisions and working class players carrying out orders, through the appointment of administrators who could take over the directors’ workload and act as an intermediaries with the players, to the use of former players in this role. These gradually began making the footballing decisions while the directors got on with running the club. Given these circumstances it’s not surprising that we grew up in an era when managers watched and then signed players on the basis of a few minutes of playing time, and that we nodded when they used phrases like “naturally fit”. It goes a long way to explain some of the mediocrity, from Jim Baxter to (you can insert the name of your choice here), we have all seen in the past.

There was some evolution. Science began to be used, occasionally a continental influence meant the manager found himself with limited powers over the signing and selling of players and the direction the football took, and sometimes a single director or chairman negotiated with players. Indeed, it was with such a format that Liverpool FC had its most successful period. I do wonder, however, about the extent to which such changes happened in the majority of clubs.

This leads me to believe we followed the English tradition a little too ardently. Our recent managers have had coaching badges, not surprising as they have been compulsory for about ten years, but they have all grown up in the traditional English ethos. They are former players – very good ones, it must be said – who did leave some negotiation to others but tended to keep power and decision making to themselves and operated with backroom staff (and also with a chairman while Sir Niall was there) hewn from the same block of wood as themselves. I’m sure they will have taken some account of stats and of current science and medicine, but to what extent? Does this account for the injury list and players slumping towards the end of the season? I can’t think of a better explanation, especially after the stories we heard when Di Canio first arrived.

Di Canio was different and he broke the mould. He too was a very good former player, he too had backroom staff who share his ideas, but that’s where the similarity ended. He played in England but was not brought up in the English tradition. I don’t find it surprising he eschewed the title of manager. What we had was very much a chief coach, defining a culture of modern professionalism and working with the players. The result was a new system, a new culture and, overall, I think this had to be the right way to go.

We appeared to have arrived at a very healthy situation, which probably did not exist previously, where we finally had everything in place, including a potentially very good team, for a serious crack at the top half of the table. Was the only thing we need a period of stability to provide the current chief coach and his staff with space so the culture embedded and the team took off? Results, team selections (I don’t know about coaching) and other statements and decisions led me to doubt Di Canio’s judgment and now he’s gone we’ll never know if time would have let him get there.

Di Canio’s support team – fitness coach, director of football, have also gone and as we changed our whole scouting team, most of our coaches and many more backroom staff we will have to rebuild from the bottom up. Whoever is our new manager will no doubt want to bring in his own team. The question is, what ethos will it stamp on the club? Will it revert to the old traditional system? Will it build on the foundations left behind by Di Canio? Is there a middle way? I have a feeling Ellis Short knows what he wants and used Di Canio as the starting point to getting it. When Di Canio didn’t prove up to it he was let go. That doesn’t mean Short will be deflected. I’m watching this space with interest

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27 thoughts on “PDC’s sacking: (3) Culture club or the Animals?”

    • Love to hear his [ Clough’s ] take on all this? Mind you, he had his own ego issues but, having said that he had some charm to go with it, and players would run through brick walls for him – excluding Leeds players obviously.

  1. Mocked by GeordieinReading. Won’t sleep now. Missed his ready wit and repartee. Glad he’s back. Rapier-like wit…it’s a rare thing. He’s a humble man……with much to be humble about….let’s be honest life in Reading must have its impact….and he works in IT….suddenly all makes sense

      • GDS (can’t even be arsed to type your stupid name) it all depends on what you find funny if something is going to appear to be humorous to you, for example I found our 3-0 win at Sid James Park absolutely hilarious, additionally you lot having Joe Kinnear in your hierarchy is also very funny to me……but I realise others may not find these things worth a chortle.

        In fact, I find the Mags a source of nothing but humour, horses and all (thats not just the ones you have on pitch in barcode strips by the way).

  2. As I see it Di Canio was the head coach and it appears he picked his team on the basis of attitudes demonstrated in training. Hence he was keen on Ji and started him twice, picking him again even when he had had a shocker in the first game. The only thing PDC learned from that first outing was that it is better to replace Ji at half time than after three minutes of the second period. And he turned down a reported offer of £4 million for him before deciding he was unlikely to play for us again at senior level.

    He started Cabral who played well against Fulham and then demoted him to – in his own words “number four choice”.

    He decided that Vaughan was the man for the central midfield role then subbed him at half time.

    He picked Larsson for the early games then he wasn’t even on the bench on Saturday. He dropped Altidore who had shown potential when his “goal” was disallowed against Arsenal in favour of Borini whose contributions in that same match were some enthusiastic though ultimately futile shots from distance.

    He criticised O’Shea, Ji, Cabral, Roberge, and Sessegnon, as well as Bardsley who deserved it, in press conferences. He criticised the whole team in others. I bought into the idea that the team needed more discipline and professional pride. A fitter team, who looked after themselves and worked hard in training was a step forward I believed, but then to undo that good work by publicly undermining your players is just plain stupid.

    Many of us who were dubious about the appointment in the first place, were prepared to get behind him in the belief that his belief in hard work would benefit the club. The bright start in his first three games at least kept us in the top flight and the 3-0 especially gives us some positives to remember him by.

    Unfortunately his undoubted qualities as Head Coach were far outweighed by his deficiencies. I’m even beginning to wonder if at sometime during MON’s tenure Ellis Short had said to Margaret Byrne or some other delegated person “see if you can get me that Italian bloke – Di Whatsit?” and they chased Di Canio rather than Di Matteo. Might explain a lot, including their lack of preparation for the predictable political furore that greeted his arrival.

    I hope whoever comes in gets the players onside. I still feel there’s a decent squad at the club but they have a mountain climb.

  3. The director of football is still here, as is the scouting team. The reason they were introduced and Di Canio given (not requestesed) the title of head coach was so that another could come in and replace him without the need for a massive overhaul from top to bottom.

    That should, thankfully, rule out someone like Pulis.

    • I did. He wasn’t a mediocrity when he started, I’ll grant you that, but did he set every game alight? My point is that the system under which he operated allowed him (and many others) to become much poorer than he could have been and did nothing to keep him at his peak.

      • I saw him play for Rangers against Red Star Belgrade in a European Cup game at Highbury in the 1960s.
        He gave the greatest midfield display I’ve ever seen, and did so as if he was playing in the Park with his kids.
        He was a genius, the most naturally gifted midfield player of his era. He would be compared with Messi or Ronaldo if he was playing today.

        I don’t disagree with your point about the system at the time – that’s accurate. But Jim Baxter was special – one of the best half dozen players I’ve ever seen.

      • I saw him playing at Roker Park.against a few teams. I don’t disagree with the fact that he was special when he wanted to be. But most of the time I saw him he was going through the motions and I stand by my use of the word mediocre to describe his play and his contribution, especially towards the end of his time with us. Let’s face it, more or less 100 games, six goals from open play. What’s the % scoring rate for Ronaldo and Messi?.

  4. I just re read what you’d written here John, and even in these days of immediate communication electronically I feel that I’ve missed something.

    Have Angeloni and di Fanti been sent packing as well?

      • According to the BBC


        “The Italian’s backroom team of first-team coach Fabrizio Piccareta, goalkeeping coach Domenico Doardo, fitness coach Claudio Donatelli and physio Giulio Viscardi will also leave the Stadium of Light outfit. “]

        So De Fanti/Angelino have not gone yet.This appears to be just a “coaching” replacement.

        If you read the club’s own report on him he said this only a few months ago.

        ““Sometimes, if you wait 48 hours the player is gone,” De Fanti said. “I went to sign Cabral at 2am in a restaurant and I was not leaving until I got his signature.

        “Then 48 hours later he had offers from two clubs in the Bundesliga. If we had waited longer we would probably not have Cabral now.”

        This a player PDC payed once(and decent enough I thought) only to never play him again.Does this kind separation of duties ever work at an English football level?

  5. Which period at Liverpool are you referring to here John?

    Was that really the way that things worked under Bob Paisley?

    • Sorry, there’s ambiguity above, so much for rushing.

      From what I understand Bob Paisley ran the team with great discipline and chose the players, tactics etc. but he didn’t negotiate the contracts or players’ terms.

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