Managers are always the first to take the flack for any hazardous circumstance that results in a poor run of form.
Sometimes this blame is correctly rubber-stamped, and a club does indeed have the right to demand of the manager their minimum expectation of achievement. However more often, a board capitulates to popular pressure and finds a scapegoat for its own crimes. Take Paul Hart for example. Ostensibly this is a man who is taking over a club that has been knocking on the door to Europe for a couple of years. Despite a recent lag under Tony Adams, that culminated in Hart steering Portsmouth to Premier League safety, this is a large reputation to live up to.
Therefore, after thirteen games and only seven points, punditry and fan bases refused to even blink an eye when Hart received the axe for Portsmouth’s slump. However, it is worth pointing out that transfer embargos, baffling takeovers and fluctuant salaries take their toll on a football team. Regardless of whether a player loves the club he plays for or not, not being paid always tends to make someone anxious and worried. Understanding that there is a new owner in place who might not approve of you and what you can offer the club also tends to rob a player or staff member of confidence and allows an aura of uncertainty to creep in.
So then, has Hart done a bad job under the circumstances? It is worth pointing out that the seven points Portsmouth have collected this season have come in the last six games, not including a Carling Cup victory over Stoke. Liverpool have only managed five points in their last six Premier League games and they are one of the best teams in Europe – proof if any that Hart might not have been doing as bad a job of holding things together as was made out.
It was ironically another undermining factor that eventually supplanted the determined Hart at Portsmouth too. Avram Grant – recently brought in as director of football – had been acquired by new owner Ali al-Faraj with Hart having no input in the decision, shrinking the former Nottingham Forest boss’ authority yet further. Some people may be pro-director, however, there can be no doubting the fact that they effectively interfere with what most people would consider to be a manager’s domain – signing players, overseeing scouting missions and helping to plan training.
It will be interesting then, to see how Grant copes after Hart’s departure. At Chelsea he proved himself to be a more than capable manager, however, he will have to deal with a new investor who’s ideas on the progression of the football club have not been made clear yet. He will also have to lift a team that have been hit by yet another disruption, which cannot help their confidence at all. December could potentially be another very gloomy month for Pompey.
Of course some boards actually decide to stick with their manager through the hard times and that has certainly paid off for Arsenal. It has been a while since the years of Gunner dominance in the Premier League, and the ilk of Patrick Viera, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry must have seemed like a wisp of a dream to even the most optimistic fan – however the resilience has finally started to match the quality. For the last two years there have been grumbles of discontent about Arsene Wenger’s control, and Arsenal’s trophyless position. However, Wenger’s constant overture to youth has started to make real headway and the team are now more domineering than their previous cousins.
The quality has always been there, all you have to do is watch them to see that. However, the resilience to see out matches and cope with the physical nature of the league has been lacking in recent years. This season Arsenal have been much better and although there have been some hiccups, trust in the manager has never been higher. Qualification to the next stage of the Champions League, after an easy victory with a game to spare against Standard Liege represents Arsenal’s efficiency this year. Also, a quarter-final affair in the Carling Cupafter a victory against Liverpool has demonstrated Arsenal’s vigour and consistency, as well as being potentially five points off the leaders also putting them into the title race, even at such a premature stage of the season.
Any doubters of Wenger’s regime are probably going to have to wait a while then, because Arsenal’s overall run of form looks set to continue for a while.