Should we pity football managers?
Jose Mourinho this week committed an unforgivable sin – he said the truth.
In his post-match press conference after his Manchester United side was eliminated from the Champions League, he admitted that the experience of losing in the round of 16 was “nothing new” for Manchester United. While dismissing the loss as something not important to him – which is quite dubious – he is correct that Manchester United in its illustrious history has been dumped out of the competition before the quarterfinal. He is also correct that Sevilla is not a minnow and when you reach the round of 16, you are playing quality sides. Also, as impressive as Manchester United has looked in the league, there are certainly weaknesses and injuries that can be exploited by a quality side. In short, Manchester United are not invincible and that’s ok.
Even more shockingly than this is Arsene Wenger stuck up for Mourinho’s comments (sort of) in his interview prior to the Europa League tie against AC Milan. What is not surprising is how – he blamed the media.
Your job [in the media] is to get everybody to suffer. Our job [as managers] is to get as few people as possible to suffer.
“I want English football to do well. But people at our level, they are the most demanding with themselves. And the biggest suffering we get is from our own demands with ourselves. For the rest, we get love or not love.
Are the managers correct, and the media is responsible for unrealistic expectations on major clubs? Yes and no.
Major clubs like the Premier League Big Six – as well as Bayern and BVB – have major expectations for themselves. When you spend on world class talent in multiple positions, it is natural to expect the club to win, and win often. The reality is that clubs can never win as often as the fans want or the media narrative expects. There is a reason Arsenal’s Invincibles are revered – going an entire season in a league without a loss is nearly impossible. Even the Invincibles lost outside of league play and had a large number of ties in the course of a season. Even if they can navigate the league schedule and survive meetings with larger clubs, there are inevitable let downs as the season goes along. A smaller club can surprise when your players’ efforts are low or their focus is on a more important match.
That said, managers like Mourinho and Wenger set their expectations high and act offended when the media highlights their failures. Major club managers rarely go into a position saying that they simply want to work with the players to get the best out of them. Instead, the manager is the one whose brilliance will guide the club to the heights it expects, and that is why he and not another big name manager was hired. The high expectations his ego or his resume sets is almost impossible to consistently meet, and the media catches them when they do not.
So should we pity managers? In a sense, we should because their very position places them in an impossible position. Conversely, they invite the pressure and use it to help themselves get hired, and thus when they fail to achieve it some criticism is warranted.