One Person Alone Can't Manage a Premiership Football Club
"One person alone can't manage a Premiership football club."
So said Mike Ashley, in his controversial but interesting statement made today. He has never spoken a truer word in his life. It is, of course, an attempt to justify what has been perceived as boardroom interference in football related matters during Kevin Keegan's ultimately disastrous second stint in charge at Newcastle United.
A large number of critics will look at this statement and conclude that Ashley is (or at least was) hell-bent on bringing a "continental-style" structure to the running of his club, or that he has failed to grasp the difference between a city-style business model and a bloody football club!
This "continental-style" structure is part journalist fantasy and part mild xenophobic attempt to create a defensive attitude towards "outsider" ideas. However, in his statement, Ashley does not cite Real Madrid or AC Milan as shining examples of a football management structure; that honour goes to Arsenal.
The irony here would seem to be that Arsene Wenger is one of two managers in the Premier League with total authority when it comes to footballing matters, the other being Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, it is likely that it is only the involvement of the (highly successful) Glazers that stopped Ashley from citing Man United as well.
What is often not noted in discussions concerning these two managers is that they are part of a huge management structure hierarchy, and work respectfully within it. They categorically do not run the club as a one-man show; they would be a laughing stock if they tried it.
The problem at Newcastle is they made one hell of a hash of modelling that structure and developing a sensible hierarchy. After initial press releases in January claiming Keegan would be top dog in player recruitment, the reverse proved to be the case. It is absolutely mental that he had not heard of a player that had been brought in for him to manage.
Dennis Wise is perhaps the biggest villain in this saga, but Ashley is a fool for not putting him in check. Keegan had neither the brains nor nerve to up and leave much earlier, but essentially he was let down badly.
Ashley's intentions, however, seem to be to put in place a team that would work together to produce the best results possible, in footballing and financial matters. The unclear boundaries and points of authority lead this set-up to the farce it is today.
This is where Man United and Arsenal are a cut above the rest. To give an example, the signing of a certain England wonderkid, Theo Walcott. In an article on the official Arsenal website entitled, "The Day I Knew I Wanted Theo Walcott", Wenger is quoted as saying:
“I watched him in one special game against Ipswich in the FA Youth Cup Final. We had sent scouts to watch him maybe 50 times but after that of course I have to be convinced as well."
The luxury of assessing a player over the course of 50 games may not be something that was afforded to the Newcastle United recruitment department but it is Wenger's nonchalant remark that "of course" he has to be convinced that betrays the vital difference. Wenger relies heavily on the hard work of a vast network of scouts that scour the earth for fresh talent but, and this is the most important but, he is in control of the final "yes", and this is what justifies his title as one of the great talent finders in football.
After finding these players it is likely that he prioritises their importance to his squad vision and then passes on the list to the board and out of his hands for them to commence the almighty haggle. This function has been performed in recent seasons by David Dein, Keith Edelman, and currently Ken Friar.
Players and tactics are Wenger's job, not money and negotiation. This does not take in to account the charm offensive duties Wenger has, as demonstrated in his signing of Aaron Ramsey.
Man United have the same structure with David Gill (pictured above with Ferguson) acting as the hard-nosed, sharp-shooting negotiator-general without whom the signing of Berbatov and the retention of Cristiano Ronaldo would simply not have been possible.
Dennis Wise was obviously meant to embody the role of both Chief Scout and Chief Executive together, but this is obviously total madness. He is a highly competitive ex-manager and would always be seen as an undermining figure behind any manager and was given too wide-ranging a task anyway.
Ashley has gained some respect today with his heartfelt, if a little over-emotional statement but as his reign as Newcastle supremo draws to a close, he will be forced to reflect on his poor judgements, ill-fated vision and failed attempt to garner the love of the Geordie masses.
With regard to his management model, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it's done this calamitously you can bet the Arsenal will not be in a hurry to acknowledge any similarities.
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