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Under Pressure: splits clubs in two, puts managers on streets

By Mark Burke



LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Andrea Villas-Boas the Tottenham Hotspur coach and Roberto Di Matteo the Chelsea coach meet before the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on October 20, 2012 in London, England
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Andrea Villas-Boas the Tottenham Hotspur coach and Roberto Di Matteo the Chelsea coach meet before the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on October 20, 2012 in London, England

We are moving into what is known in England as the "sacking season". Pick up any newspaper or read any website and you can take your pick of the managers that are Under Pressure. A manager can become Under Pressure in England nowadays when his team plays badly for about 45 minutes. In England, we used to laugh at countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal who always seemed to be firing managers at the slightest hint of a bad spell.

Although I think we are still more rational when it comes to these things, it seems that this mentality is creeping in here in the UK. With 24-hour media and rolling news to inform you that "Brighton’s left back has run out of shampoo in the shower but should be okay for Saturday", the interest has increased, which has led to increased scrutiny and pressure.

I think that this mad scream for somebody’s head is sometimes out of boredom and a need for something different. This thing that they call Under Pressure is like a creature, moving around the country, sniffing, prowling, waiting for a defeat. If there’s a win to break the bad run and ease the pressure, Under Pressure skulks away and moves on to the next danger zone, disappointed.

When a defeat arrives, it assesses the reaction, what are the levels of vitriol? Are they enough to drag this on? What is the history? Is it likely to escalate? It takes a comfy seat and waits for the next game, if another defeat comes it burrows a little hole, sensing blood and waits patiently, a third defeat and it pokes it head out of its hole and shows its face.

The manager becomes Under Pressure, the local radio stations are abuzz, "he’s lost the plot", "lost the changing room", lost his car keys, and is tactically naïve.

Cliché after misunderstood cliché rules the airwaves. The internet forums compete with each other to: a) criticise the manager in the cruellest, funniest and cleverest fashion; b) come up with latest rumours heard by friends, friends of friends, the brothers wife’s cousins ex-girlfriend who knows the groundsmans nephew; and c) generally argue among each other. The local newspaper moves in with stories laced with doom, searching for ‘answers, with the ‘excitement’ that accompanies the under pressure ‘creature’.

It’s a strange excitement during this period, its exciting, “what have you heard?” Really? Can I quote you on that?” No? Go, on, what about if I water it down, make it a ‘source close to the club?’ That ok? Yes? Great, Brilliant!!”

Inside the club, nerves are jangling, everybody is extra careful, the tea lady is sympathetic to the manager as she knows what he’s going through, the office staff keep their heads down and carry on regardless. This air of pressure pervades the whole club, the manager feels it and before he leaves home for work, takes a deep breath, puts on this thick skin overcoat and calls on all of his experience as he tries to think a way out of the ‘crisis’.

Crisis: Noun (plural: crises): A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.

If he comes through this crisis with credit, the manager will have found out who his friends are and who are his enemies and he will not forget. If he doesn’t survive, then he will take a holiday, move on and a few weeks later, when the dust has settled, look back on this turbulent time. Then and only then can he look back with a sense of clarity, away from the ‘fog’ that the all- consuming nature of football brings.

I’ve seen managers a few weeks after they have lost the job that was eating them alive and they look like different people. Skin clear, energy back, refreshed and looking like normal human belongs again. With some sense of perspective, most of them look back and think, what the f*** was that all about? Its only a game isn’t it?

* Mark Burke is the former Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Fortuna Sittard midfield player.