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TravelGuides – Do we go too far when we call for football managers to be sacked? | Soccer

TravelGuides – Do we go too far when we call for football managers to be sacked? | Soccer

As Ole Gunnar Solskjær stands on the Old Trafford touchline with his arms folded and the sternest of looks painted across his face, there are few people in the world who would want to swap places with him. His Manchester United side are losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool, down to 10 men and facing one of the most humiliating defeats in Premier League history. But all he can do is stand there, motionless in his technical area, knowing a swirl of abuse and criticism is heading his way.

Social media is already abuzz with hurtful messages and comments, while pundits and journalists question if the death knell is tolling on his time in charge. Well, not quite all of them. In the ensuing hours and days, Solskjær’s former teammates refuse to call for his head, triggering more online reaction as people question that bias.

Phil Neville, who played with Solskjær at United between 1996 and 2005, went one step further, attacking the desire to call for managers’ heads when things go awry. “We live in an era where it’s seen as quite normal to ask people to be sacked, which I find absolutely incredible,” said the Inter Miami coach. “If you were in any other workplace and you walked into a shop and you said, ‘I want you to be sacked’, I think you would be reported to the police.”

This is not a new phenomenon though. This week, Channel Four replayed its cult documentary Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job, which follows the former England manager’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign to reach the 1994 World Cup. Within it, there are various references to the growing pressure on Taylor in the press and among England fans. In one clip supporters yell “Taylor out” at him from a few feet away as he slopes down the tunnel at Wembley following a defeat. In another, someone off-camera shouts for him to “do the press a favour, resign” as he does a TV interview.

In one prescient scene in a match against San Marino, Taylor turns to a member of the crowd to remind them they are “talking about another human being” as John Barnes receives boos from the England crowd and points out the “influence of the daily newspapers” due to articles written in the past.

Graham Taylor and Paul Gascoigne in 1992.
Graham Taylor and Paul Gascoigne in 1992. Photograph: Fiona Hanson/PA

Taylor was famously branded a turnip by the Sun, appearing on the front page with his head resembling the vegetable. What makes it so pertinent now is that Steve Bruce said “it was hard being called an inept cabbage-head” in reference to a tirade of abuse he received as Newcastle boss before he was sacked.

If it’s any consolation to Bruce – even if it’s no justification – the Photoshopped images of his face on a cabbage passed around social media were not plastered across newspaper front pages. It’s hard to imagine that happening nowadays, even though the Mirror morphed Fabio Capello into Frankenstein’s monster in 2010 after the then-England gaffer pointedly told the media: “You create the god and you create the monster, no?”

Harsh criticism still exists in columns and reporters still call for managers to get their comeuppance, but the personal ridicule Taylor was subjected to is increasingly seen as distasteful. Neville was not only talking about the press and pundits though. His main ire was directed at online abuse. “Social media is an absolute cesspit for people that are just the lowest of the low,” he said. “It’s out of control. People don’t probably realise that the things they are writing hurt families and human beings. It’s not as if United have never lost 5-0. The only difference was there was not a billion people on Twitter thinking they knew best about this, that and the other.”

It’s undeniable that social media shapes the agenda now – and not just in football. Opinions are shared freely, creating surges of extreme views as stories are shared and gather greater relevance. In the era of round-the-clock analysis of managers, social media fans the flames in a way that terrace chat and pub debate could not previously. Incidents and results are less likely to be forgotten; criticism is more stinging; and reactions become more extreme.

Society and the monetised nature of the football industry means there is less patience and more sackings than decades gone by, but the stakes are higher and the potential rewards are greater. Neville’s assertion that fans should not be calling for managers to be sacked does not hold much sway in football fandom, where the consensus is that supporters who spend money on their team have the right to have their say. What is for sure though, is that the distinction between professional and personal criticism needs to be made, however disastrous a manager’s results.

TravelGuides – Do we go too far when we call for football managers to be sacked? | Soccer

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