Whenever news emerges that a soccer club has fired its manager, the cliche most frequently spouted by fans and members of the media is that the ill-fated boss in question “just needed more time.” Brendan Rodgers, the newly sacked manager of the English Premier League’s Liverpool FC, is the latest figure to prompt this line of inquiry: The Independent’s Sam Wallace has pondered the logic of letting Rodgers oversee summer transfers only to sack him a mere two months into the season, while the former Liverpool striker John Aldridge has admitted he “thought Brendan was going to be given a bit more time to turn it around.”
Northampton Town’s former manager, Aidy Boothroyd, agrees that soccer managers do in fact need more time—only the currency required is practical hours in a day rather than theoretical weeks to implement a managerial vision. An average day on Boothroyd’s watch often included fixing a flood under one of the stadium stands, booking a training ground at a local university, and meeting a local groundsman to ensure the field was adequate: All before he could get to the “football” part of his job.
Boothroyd’s testimony comes from the British sportswriter Michael Calvin’s recent book, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager, in which the author interviews several current or very recent soccer club managers about the unique and intense pressure the job entails. The author tries admirably to humanize English soccer-club managers, who often face overwhelming (and unrealistic) pressure to succeed with limited resources. But he also reveals something of the madness inherent in the role itself. In return for the impossible promise of future success, managers are given an incredible amount of power by their clubs, with responsibilities ranging from team selection to tactical planning, motivational speaking to media relations, transfer negotiations to youth player development. As football has grown more complex in recent years, it’s clear that very few people can handle this kind of workload and expect to succeed.