Football managers deserve more respect
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, left, and captain Ryan Nelsen reacts after their team's 1-0 win over Bahrain in the World Cup qualifying playoff second leg soccer match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/NZPA, Ross Setford)
A few disappointing losses for the Wellington Phoenix and the media were already on Ricki Herbert’s back, demanding his resignation. This was before the Nix were sliced open and disembowelled by a bloodthirsty Sydney FC in a 7-1 massacre.
Now the fans and the club will be demanding Herbert’s head.
With crowds flagging at Westpac Stadium this season, Herbert made the bold decision to implement a more fluid possession-based game. Admittedly, this was a big mistake. The Phoenix have lost their last four matches.
No team can adapt to a new style with a click of the fingers. Not even professional teams. Players need time to learn the new system and change their mindset. Decision-making comes from experience after all.
However, does this mean Ricki Herbet should be sacked as soon as possible? No. Nor does Herbert need to be given one last chance. He has already proved himself.
Herbert, almost singlehandedly, has brought New Zealand football out of the desolate doldrums into which it was descending. He took over a New Zealand Knights team that had won just three times in two seasons and gave them three wins in five games before the club was dissolved.
He has led the Wellington Phoenix to the play-offs of the A-League finals series. An impressive feat for a team based in a country where football is in no way the dominant sport.
Let’s not forget that Herbert carried New Zealand into the limelight at the 2010 World Cup. The All Whites left the tournament as the only undefeated team and picked up a one-all draw against the previous winners of the tournament, Italy. Not bad for a country who, at the time, only had 25 professional players.
Herbert has put his heart and soul into the Nix. He has managed the club since its formation in 2007. He does not deserve to be sacked so brusquely. He deserves more respect.
And he is not the only one. Managers all over the world are under intense pressure from their clubs’ boards. If a team has a poor string of results, the players will keep playing until the end of their contracts.
Managers, however, are falling down like ten-pins.
Nigel Adkins, for example, who brought Southampton from the third tier of English football to the English Premier League, has just been sacked. Just one in an extensive list of loyal managers sacrificed due to the greed of board members and owners who seem to expect miracles.
Southampton fans are outraged. Rightly so.
It was a similar case with the sacking of Di Matteo, a former Chelsea player and a club legend. Roman Abramovich has no respect for the game and no respect for his club.
He expects that pumping millions of dollars into the club and replacing the coach every season will bring immediate results.
This is not true. Clubs are built on a core of players and staff. Graham Arnold has done this with the Central Coast Mariners. Ricki Herbert has done this with the Wellington Phoenix. Both managers have seen unprecedented success.
Herbert will be forever haunted by the photo of Del Piero, surrounded by his teammates, his fist pumping the air in triumph, while the crowd scream and jump in the background. The picture will be printed and reprinted for days.
This will be enough to keep him awake at night for weeks. He doesn’t need to fear for his job too.