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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Give Me Just A Little More Time

After Paulo Sousa is sacked as Leicester manager, Nobes criticises Foxes chairman Milan Mandaric for his high managerial turnover.

Paulo Sousa was in charge at Leicester City for just three months

He's an experienced businessman, self-made millionaire, and known for telling employees: "You're Fired!"

With the return of the BBC's The Apprentice to our screens this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm referring to Sir Alan Sugar. However, the above description could equally apply to Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric.

The Serb, who previously held a similar role at Portsmouth, is notorious for his impatience with managers. The decision to part company with his latest, Paulo Sousa, after just nine games shouldn't come as much of a surprise therefore.

It's a move which has attracted fierce criticism from Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, who called on the club to "examine its manager recruitment strategy."

Without naming Mandaric in person, it was clearly a broadside meant for the City chairman who responded saying things simply "didn't work out for him [Sousa]" at the Walkers Stadium.

Of course, the idea that just nine games can be used to assess whether someone is going to "work out" or not is laughable.

True, Leicester did sit bottom of the Championship with just four points to their name and, yes, they had slumped to an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at Portsmouth. However, they were by no means cut adrift.

The sacking is classic Mandaric though - a man whose behaviour is typical of the very worst in football chairmen.

Just days before sacking Sousa, he was calling on everyone at the club to "stick together" and described the Portuguese as "a jewel of football and he just needs support and patience."

It was a point I made after his appointment in the summer. However, he was never going to receive it from Mandaric. This is a man with form, after all.

Since taking over in the East Midlands in February 2007, Mandaric has got through seven managers. Only one, Nigel Pearson, has lasted a full season.

On his arrival, City were managed by Rob Kelly, who the new owner claimed had his "full support" and was in his plans for the next season. Two months later, he was gone.

Next up was Nigel Worthington in a caretaker capacity but, after keeping the Foxes in the Championship, he wasn't given the job full time and in-came Milton Keynes boss Martin Allen.

"I needed someone with hunger, drive, commitment, and potential to aspire to our dreams and Martin ticked the boxes," beamed Mandaric.

"His undoubted ability is matched only by his infectious enthusiasm which will inspire the club."

Just three league games in, and Allen was out with, "differences between both parties regarding the direction of the club," cited.

A man who Mandaric described as being able to "aspire to our dreams," was now dismissed because of City and Allen's "respective visions for the club."

If it wasn't real life, you'd have to laugh. Not that it ends there.

After Allen came Gary Megson, who soon chose to quit and join Bolton. Mandaric then turned to Plymouth's Ian Holloway.

Beaming, again, he triumphantly declared: "I am confident that I have got the man to take us forward. I believe he is a manager that my supporters will enjoy and respect."

Never has so much confidence and belief been misplaced. Holloway was unable to stop the rot at City, and they dropped down into League One after an agonising final day. The manager paid with his job.

Holloway and Mandaric - one of many new manager unveilings

Mandaric now uses the Holloway failure as defence for his swift sacking of Sousa. However, Leicester were already in a dogfight when the Bristolian was appointed and survival, which should have been his brief, was only narrowly missed.

His words after Holloway's appointment also contradict his claims after Sousa's departure that managerial hirings are a board decision, rather than his personal choice.

You'd certainly like to think the board did have some in-put, as Mandaric clearly has very little idea when it comes to appointing managers. His nous for business isn't matched by his ability to identify good appointments.

It is a constant source of annoyance that the people who hire and fire managers with such regularity are never actually held accountable themselves. After all, surely someone is to blame for a failed appointment?

Mandaric should have known Sousa's different football culture would take time to inculcate into the squad. He should have been prepared to write off this season and play the long game - hoping success and good football would eventually come.

Then again, he's probably in a rush after claiming if Leicester weren't in the Premier League after three seasons
he would have failed. Perhaps he should sack himself?

As enjoyable as it is to criticise Mandaric though, he's not alone. Take the words of Sir John Madejski after appointing Brendan Rodgers as Reading boss in June 2009.

"Brendan is a bright young man with exciting ideas. His managerial credentials, vision for the future, and years of experience with our club put him above all others we considered."

Positive noises, it seemed, from a chairman known for giving managers time and support.

He was willing to buy into his new manager's philosophy as he looked to change a team who had been an orthodox 4-4-2 under Steve Coppell into a new 4-3-3 style with an emphasis on young players and a patient, passing style.

Or not. Rodgers was gone before Christmas with the Royals having had a season of struggle. What did the chairman expect though? The club was in a transition phase and such things can happen during a huge culture change.

Rodgers, now impressing at Swansea, had shown promise with Watford before Madejski came calling. Why did he lose faith and belief in what the manager was trying to do so quickly?

Sousa, too, had done well at Swansea, almost taking them into the top six. However, he endured a slow start at the Liberty 12 months ago, and that was with a team used to playing in a footballing style.

The message is clear - managers take time to get their feet under the desk. Take Ipswich, whose fine start to this campaign is in stark contrast to last year's early struggles.

However, Town kept faith with Roy Keane - proven in the Championship at Sunderland - and are now reaping the benefits of a settled manager and squad.

Thus, if a manager is appointed largely because of a good track record, then an owner should have the conviction in his appointment to exercise patience, even when results don't come at first.

If not, they are simply exposing themselves as unsuitable to make such appointments, as Bevan so rightly pointed out.

It's the kind of policy which can put managers off joining a club, too. For instance, would the experienced Neil Warnock have ever risked going to QPR if the notoriously impatient Flavio Briatore had still been at Loftus Road?

Working under such a trigger-happy chairman as Milan Mandaric should come with a similar health warning.

Not that that was enough to put off former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson from accepting the challenge of succeeding Sousa.

You do wonder when Sven heard he could work for Milan whether he thought he'd landed the more attractive gig of managing at the San Siro rather than the Walkers.

After all, he'd certainly get more time in Italy.

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