The case of Steve McClaren and the rigged jury

November 23, 2007

mcclaren-exits.jpgJudge me after twelve games. That was the plea when Steve McClaren took over as England manager. He was always struggling. When the England football team lost that twelfth game, the jury met to see that justice was done …

Or, in less metaphoric terms, the England Football team failed to reach the European Championships. This was failure on a scale last witnessed over a decade ago.

The jury (sorry, The FA board), called an emergency meeting for 8.30 the following morning, and gathered to report their verdict (sorry, decisions). A news conference was convened and by 10 am, chairman Professor Thompson chair of the FA, and Sir David Richards of the Premier league took the main roles.

They announced that the board has terminated the contracts of Coach Steve McClaren, and deputy coach Terry Venables. Brian Barwick (CEO) is to carry out a root-and-branch study, and report his findings back to the board together with a recommendation to the board for a new appointment. The recruitment process will take as long as it takes.

One minor saving factor for all concerned. There are no competitive internationals for a while, so it is implied that the decision can wait while before the next major campaign.

Journalists quizzed Brian Barwick. Wasn’t he just a weeny-bit responsible for hiring Mr McClaren in the first place?

Intervention from chair. Brian is CEO, but we as a board take shared responsibility for what has happened.

The accused speaks

Later, the lugubrious ex-manager had his say .

“It is a sad day to have been relieved of my duties but I understand the decision of the FA … It’s a huge disappointment for the nation and fans. But I will learn from my failure,”

His failure to qualify for Euro 2008 cost him his job, said FA chief executive Brian Barwick.

“I spoke to Steve this morning – we get on very well with him. I’ve had many grown-up conversations and had another one with him this morning – and I can only wish him well. But in the end, not qualifying for Euro 2008 comes up short” McClaren’s reign was the shortest tenure of any England coach.

Fantasy football in Westminster and beyond

This has been a good week in the UK for stories about bad leadership, in politics, business, and sport. There does seem to be a few patterns common to all. I’m not sure to what degree they capture a cultural rather than a universal theme.

The scuffles in the House of Commons are seeped in ancient rituals, with occasional efforts to find imaginative ways of yah-booing that stay within the letter of the law, if not in the spirit of Bagehot. George Osborne seems to thrive on vituperation. With every battle as shadow Chancellor he grows ever younger, a variation on the Dorian Grey image, and with genetic traces of Norman Tebbitt.

In Business cum politics, this week we have noted, among others, the inevitable demise of the Northern Rockers, pretty much root and branch.

But the real fantasy football this week was played out the FA HQ at Soho Square. I can’t get that image of a bizarre trial scene out of my mind.

The nightmare

Picture the packed court room. The accused stands grim-faced and slightly slumped in the dock. The judge arrives, and then the jury trails in with the verdict.

But wait a minute. This is no ordinary jury. Isn’t that Brian Barwick, and Thompson chair of the FA, and Sir David Richards? And surely that’s one or two former England managers with them, standing next to Alan Green, BBC’s current voice of the fans? And the others seem to be journalists. The foreman is Paul Hayward of The Daily Mail.

The verdict of this jury has been unanimous. The defendent is found guilty as charged. Defendant seems unmoved, as if expecting the verdict. But then (this is a bad dream, isn’t it) the foreman stuns the court into silence.

This is a rigged jury

This is no ordinary jury, he cries. It’s a rigged trial. McClaren is a fall guy for the toytown Napoleons at the FA. They even got themselves on to the jury. They are the real culprits. I have already made a deposition that proves it.

“The blazers, who paid Sven Goran Eriksson £25million to reach three quarter-finals and then arrogantly assumed Luiz Felipe Scolari would accept the England job just as he was about to lead Portugal to a World Cup, remain untouchable, unindicted, beyond the reach of the anger that washed over McClaren and his players.

Why call Sir Dave and the chairman of the FA to account when you can blame Scott Carson? Why should anyone at Soho Square resign when you can boot out Terry Venables, who was hired as a human shield to protect McClaren from the press and then marginalised throughout the campaign?

The more urgent need is to consider not 45 minutes but 40 years of failure and here we trudge back to the realisation that the crudeness and physicality of the game in these islands is not conducive to international success.”

Uproar in court. Cries of shame. Resign. To the tower.

I wake up from the nightmare. Check the newspapers. No, it’s not entirely fantasy football. England did lose to Croatia. And as someone said, hinting at the manager’s golden goodbye: Football? It’s a game of two and half million pounds.


A Bad Week for Weakened Leaders: But how far is Paris from Agincourt?

October 19, 2007

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It’s been a bad week for British leaders. A spate of sackings and resignations has occurred. The battered leaders met their nemesis after humiliating performances in sport, business and politics. But hope persists at the prospects for a great victory in the Rugby World Cup

There are so many stories. Too many for me to cover all of them in detail.

Some were easier to predict than others. Sammy Lee acquired his job at the start of the season, as manager of Bolton Wanderers FC, when the much-admired Sam Allardyce was head-hunted for Newcastle United. He stepped up from Big Sam’s shadow. But from the start he was dubbed little Sam, a painful reminder of his erstwhile stature and status. Bolton has had a dreadful start to the season. In a little league table of Premiership managers facing the sack, I had him placed second (just below Martin Jols of Tottenham). Sorry Martin. Hang in there.

Then there were the casualties from the World Cup of Rugby Football. I didn’t have a list of these. But I certainly would not have placed Graham Henry of the New Zealand All Blacks anywhere near the top. My list of managers most likely to take an early bath would have been headed by England’s Brian Ashton, about whom more later. Henry’s team had been confirming their status as the tournament favourites until the quarter finals. Until then they had outstripped opponents so thoroughly that they had hardly become match tight. They lost a tight game, playing below their potential. Exit New Zealand. Exit Henry.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland failed to make it through the first stage of the tournaments. Out went Gareth Jenkins of Wales, and Eddie O’ Sullivan, of Ireland. Only Scotland’s much-rated Frank Hadden survived.

England’s football coach Steve McClaren also seems to be surviving on borrowed time, after defeat to Russia leaves England’s qualification from the European Cup in doubt. In his case, there is a mathematical probability that England will reach the knockout stage of the European competition. This, as much as somewhat improved performances by the team, is staying the hand of the English Football Association. They had already botched the appointment of McClaren after a hasty effort and failed effort to secure Big Sam (sorry, Big Phil) Scolari during last year’s World Cup.

[Will Big Steve survive in his present coaching job longer than Big Martin Jols of Tottenham?].

In Politics

In Politics the increasingly nasty tussles between Gordon Brown and David Cameron continue in Parliamentary exchanges. Ironically, the more immediate victim of that contest was Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats. In a decision that caught the press unawares, Ming has his retirement announced for him by two leading Lib Dem king-makers and king -unmakers. (‘Did you wield the knife’ one reporter shouted audibly during the televised announcement. No, he resigned. Ming spoke the next day, saying he had decided that he would not be able to deflect the media from obsessing about his age, thus hindering all attempts to get across the political messages he wanted to convey.

These petty-paced political moves are arguably no more than the uncomfortable outcroppings of democracy. As I write, I learn of the real carnage within presumably an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she re-entered Pakistan after a decade of exile.

In Business

In the aftermath of the celebrated Northern Rock affair, the bank’s leaders appeared before the commons select committee that had already interviewed the leaders of the Bank of England, The treasury, and The Financial Services Authority.

Under typically robust questioning, Adam Applegarth and Matt Ridley denied that they had ‘done anything wrong’ but indicated that they would accept the judgement of their shareholders, if they were eventually forced to resign.

In the course of the questioning, it was also revealed that all the bank’s senior directors had offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the run, but had been asked to stay on to sort out its problems.

I think they are safe for the moment, on the same grounds as Big Steve McClaren has a temporary stay of execution. [Stop press, a few hours after I posted this, Dr Ridley accepted the inevitable and resigned].

In a somewhat different story, ITV faces calls for the dismissal of various culprits in their money-making scheme based on rigged phone-in contests. The enormity of this story can be seen when it emerges that Mr Ant and Mr Dec are under threat. That’s like Santa up for shop-lifting in the Christmas Sales.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

King-makers popped up to endorse Steve McClaren, and to praise and bury Ming Campbell. They even popped up to endorse coach Brian Ashton, after England’s heart-stopping Rugby Union victory over France. It could be seen as one of those endorsements which increasingly indicate that the coach is in big trouble. The denial serves to signal the presence of trouble, not its absence. This was a slightly different kind of announcement, I think. It was made on the wave of national support for the England team.

Here we have an example of the rapid swings for and against a leader. Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell. The performances of his teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is from Paris to Agincourt?


What’s going on at Tottenham?

August 24, 2007

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There is a belief in football sports lore that a manager is in trouble when his chairman publically offers him support. This week Martin Jol of Tottenham Hotspur was the latest recipient of such an endorsement, delivered by his chairman David Levy

The story is rich in leadership implications. Martin Jol is widely recognized as a successful international football coach. As Manager, he has been as as successful as outside experts expected in his time at Tottenham Hotspur. Last season ended with the club in a creditable fifth-place in the Premier league. The evidence is that he is well-respected by the players. His acquisition of Dimitar Berbatov has been a huge success, with the Bulgarian striker scoring over twenty goals in his first season at the club. Despite interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, Tottenham was able to reatain their star striker, who has indicated the importance to him of his manager’s influence.

So why is there any doubt over Jol’s future? The obvious source of dissatisafaction is the two successive losses at the start of the season earlier this month. This was followed by a convincing win, but the rumours grew. The directors at the club appeared to have reached a view that their manager was not the person through which they would fulfil their goal of becoming one of the top four English premiership clubs. On this criterion, last season’s fifth place was a failure, even if it had been judged a signal success by most disinterested observers (if there is such a thing).

It appears that the poor start to the season may just have reinforced a corporate view that had emerged earlier. According to iol,

Spurs had offered his job to Sevilla coach Juande Ramos
In almost three years in charge his position has never been under such scrutiny for his usual media briefing…Jol only received the “100 percent” support of his chairperson Daniel Levy at the third attempt on Thursday, [August 23rd 2007] two previous statements from the Spurs’ board this week notably failed to give him their full backing…As Jol prepared to give his version of events, Spurs were forced to deny rumours that Fabio Capello was next in line to take over the helm after Ramos’s decision to stay put in Sevilla

So, there is some evidence of board-room discontent. It calls to mind the background of rumours around Jose Mourinho at Chelsea earlier this year, and Sven Goran Eriksson as he approached the end of his time as England manager.

Come to think of it …

Ambition drives business leaders onwards, and sometimes upwards. The goal of reaching the top four clubs in the land is one that can be understood. Only the churlish would point out that such an ambition needs deep pockets, maybe deeper than those around Tottenham at present. The ambition would have been further strengthened by the ease with which Chelsea has jumped to the top of the status table in London, as well as the top of the league nationally since the Abramovitch takeover and his foolishly wealthy support. That must hurt. For the moment, in town, Tottenham must look up to Arsenal who must look up to Chelsea. I looks up to him, but he looks up to me, as the old John Cheese sketch put it.

Admirable ambition. If the stories turn out to be accurate, the ambition was rather unrealistic, and badly executed. A fine manager is put under pressure, and the club has succeeded in the short-term only in undermining his efforts.


Sven, Alex and the Prawn Sandwich Brigade

August 19, 2007

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The first battle of the season between Manchester City and Manchester United is an opportunity to evaluate the impact of two celebrated leaders of contrasting styles. Sir Alex (The hairdryer) Ferguson blows as hot as Sven Goran Eriksson remains icily cool. The press have managed to squeeze out a story of mutual antagonism. The city remains largely disinterested in the press version of events.

Matches between Manchester City and Manchester United do not seem to be among the highlights of the year for some local fans. City fans say it is because United supporters don’t come from Manchester. And anyway, they are inclined to add, the only Premiership stadium in the city is now Eastlands and until recently was at Maine Road, spiritual home of Manchester City.

Still, the press can always find a way to make the event more noteworthy. I picked up the story on the day of the Manchester derby match of August 19th 2007.

In The Sunday Telegraph, Roy Collins referred to ‘that mixture of Swedish and English that should perhaps be known as Svenglais’. Sven has excellent English, somewhat easier to understand than most English (not to mention Scottish) pundits and commentators.

It brought back to mind the gratuitous and unthinkingly xeonphobic articles Sven suffered during his time as England manager. As if on cue, I came across another article by Manchester City fan and Guardian blogger/ reporter Simon Hattenstone who acclaimed Sven’s great start as City’s manager, while hedging his bets in advance of the Manchester Derby, resorting (I think) to irony.

Svennis, I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have compared you to Death in The Seventh Seal, shouldn’t have called you frigid, lily-livered and deluded, or harked on about your Cuban heels, or made gratuitous references to your Zeus-like libido, or been catty about the sweet dream that you were managing Manchester United, or questioned your ingenious scouting on YouTube. I was foolish, Svennis, an ignoramus. Glib. Just a stupid football fan wantonly giving you sticks.

With friends like these …

A more balanced view of Sven’s track-record found in an excellent BBC highs and lows treatment. And a useful if hagiographic account of Sir Alex in a ManU fanzone.

How to create a story

The tabloids managed to work up a story (an old one of ‘Fergie’s mind games’).
“People are trying to get me to talk about Sven, but I don’t know enough about him for an opinion really.” Which didn’t stop an article in The People from Steve Bates featuring the ‘exclusive’ that

Sir Alex Ferguson took a dig at Manchester derby rival Sven Goran Eriksson last night, claiming he’s only managing in the Premier League for the big-money wages.

I thought I’d offer a little local background to the match …

What’s it like in Manchester?

Wet. Cool. Quiet. At nine in the morning, the main signs of life are a few cars on near-deserted roads in the suburbs, and even fewer customers for the morning paper at the newsagents. The supermarkets are still getting ready for the mid-morning shoppers. The weather is worth a couple of hundred auxiliary coppers on crowd-control duties; the magistrate who sanctioned an early Sunday kickoff also did her civic duty.

It’s hard to believe it will be possible to play a game of tennis outdoors. It may be harder to understand how a group of us manages to play almost every Sunday. That’s because we play on an all-weather court, and in drizzle, and between showers. And so we shall today.

At the bar, Eric is having a late breakfast before going to the match. He says he fancies City to win. Eric always fancies City to win. But there’s always hope.

Ours is a mixed club. Mixed in a mostly tolerant way. There are reds and blues, but more than a smattering of the other regional reds (Liverpool supporters). To complicate the mix more, quite a few members are also supporters of that other local sympathy case, Stockport County (‘My other car’s a Porsche’).

Bragging rights

Supporters, true supporters, aren’t supposed to fraternise with the enemy. Maybe we are the kind so neatly skewered by Roy Keene as the prawn sandwich brigade. Anyway, I can’t see me tossing insults at Eric across the stadium, or vice-versa. We just wouldn’t accuse each other of being that sort of tosser. As for bragging rights, that’s maybe one of the psychological payoffs us prawn sandwich brigadiers have to do without. At least it makes Mondays more bearable for all sides. On the other hand, there is plenty of interest in football. I could probably say who supports whom for most of these folk …

Still falls the rain

In my mind’s eye, I can see more-committed praetorian guardsmen gathering prior to battle. Rain will not weary them, nor the clouds dispel. Their drummers will rally the troops as they head for the East Manchester fields, having supped well on what used to be called the Cream of Manchester, the blessed Boddingtons, brewed but a stone’s throw from Strangeways prison. As true to my stereotyping, as they to theirs, I head off home, if not to a prawn sandwich then maybe for a piece of Pork and Pickle pie.

Stop Press

City 1 United 0. Eric’s dream has come true. Sven’s team tops the table, Sir Alex, for the moment, has come out second best. I can’t remember what the Pork and Pickle pie tasted like.


Football leadership: Strong is weak and weak is strong?

March 3, 2007

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When Steve McClaren became England’s football coach he booted David Beckham out of the team and out of the entire squad. Showing strong leadership. Or was he just showing the need to try to show strong leadership? Now he faces losing his own job

Update

This story has been updated [August 20th 2007, October 19th 2007] to a time when after many twists and turns, David Beckham had been readmitted to the England Squad by Steve McClaren, then lost his place through injury.

The updates gives me a chance to clarify the content of the original post. I’m keeping the original which even I think was pretentious and unclear, because it does have a leadership point to it. I wish I’d just kept it simple, mentioned that the ‘previous General’ was Sven Goran Eriksson, his favorite captain was that self-same David Beckham, and cut out all those post-modern flourishes.

The Original Text

I will leave the full story to those who have studied it in far more detail, for nearly a year, across front and back pages of newspapers, in multiple TV and radio shows around the World. I’m really interested in the more general points of a leader’s honeymoon period, and what constitutes ‘good’ leadership.

Trying to leave the sainted David out of the story is bit like trying to write a history of the Second World War without mentioning Winston Churchill, or that Austrian chappie. Becks is a near-unique marketing phenomenon, as well as a former England football captain. I’m going to try to airbrush him out, if only because it keeps me on a playing field where I’ve at least got a couple of coaching badges.

The Beckhamless Tale

[Look, we’ll just cut out the clever post-modern stuff about Beckham still dominating the text, despite all efforts to leave him out. OK?] This is a story about a leader who takes over after the fall of another leader judged to have failed. I will speak only of Generals, and Captains and so on.

As I was saying, there was this leader, a foreign General, who had taken over from a failed leader. At first, the Foreign General was successful in comparison to the previous leader. But his popularity might have been the Honeymoon effect. Even quite small triumphs helped secure his popularity at first. This period lasted a few years, although there were many who always opposed him because he was not a member of the tribe of which he had become the General in command on the field of football battle.

This foreign General had a favorite warrior, whose name need not concern us in this story. This favorite was his appointed military Captain. The Captain was indeed a famed warrior, (another btale of triumph after early setbacks). Captain and General helped achieve some victories, often snatching victory as defeat seemed inevitable.

As time went by, the closeness of the victories, and a few defeats, dispelled all dreams of the people that the General was a super-hero. Both General and Captain fell from favor. The honeymoon period was over. The General indicated that he would leave his post. He was aware that the powerful barons would call for his head after his next defeat.

There followed another defeat even as the General was preparing to relinquish his duties. His gallant and weary Captain also proffered his resignation, but pledged himself to serve under a new general, and under whomever would replace him.

The General’s lieutenant takes over

Those barons had appointed The General, and had also provided him with a member of their own tribe as deputy, someone who had become a faithful lieutenant. Many people thought he was too close to the General, so faithful and discreet was he.
The barons who wanted the Foreign General to go had been wondering how to replace him. They even approached another Foreign General, but the plan did not work. ‘Maybe if we selected the faithful lieutenant’ they perhaps argued to themselves ‘that will show we still have confidence in our past actions. And so it was, that the faithful lieutenant became the new chief.

The Lieutenant’s leadership dilemma

The new chief is closely associated with the last failed campaign of the departing General. To do nothing would suggest he has no new ideas. To attempt to introduce many changes would be suggest that he had been too weak to oppose things he disagreed over in the past. Yet he had to decide what to do to replace the Captain who had been so faithful to himself and the previous General.

The big symbolic gesture?

The new leader accepted the resignation of the gallant captain, but announced that he was no longer to be considered on active service. Some said that the decision pleased the Barons who had been critical of the favoritism showed the gallant captain by the former General. Others said that the captain had lost the support of his own foot soldiers, and was weakened by the adulation he received from the common people, and had become vain and lazy.

By acting to remove him, the new general was showing decisiveness, and this also helped deflect continued criticism that he was too wedded to the plans and favorites of the former General.

What would you have done?

Remember we are trying to work towards principles that might apply more widely than a single case example. I am still trying to set aside that sense of ‘I know what happened next to the former Captain, and the results of early campaigns of the newly appointed General’. What would you have done when first put in charge? What might be the considerations favoring one action over others? You have to do something, even if it is a ‘wait and see’ policy. How might we assess a leader’s competence at the time, and subsequently?

This is a thought-experiment. We can simulate various possibilities and outcomes in imagination. This in turn helps us develop micro-theories around our assumptions and beliefs. It’s how war games are played. We can try to draw on parallels from the stories we know of other leaders, in other sets of circumstances.

There are arguments in favor of a new leader making painful changes as early as possible on appointment. The case was made many years ago by Machiavelli.

I have indicated some other considerations that might have been part of the new General’s calculations. Perhaps you feel that Machiavelli’s principle (hit hard and early, then rein back) can be used to justify the actions of the new general. Maybe you have another take on the story of the newly appointed General?


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