A Constant Exchange of Mediocrity

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Malky Mackay has ruled himself out of the race for the vacant Crystal Palace managerial position, having been embroiled today in a text message scandal. The former Cardiff manager allegedly took part in a series of homophobic, racist and sexist text messages sent between he and Iain Moody, his former head of recruitment at Cardiff. On the verge of being announced as the new Palace manager, this incident is being pointed to as the reason for the breakdown of the final arrangements. Mackay looked the most promising candidate to step in for Palace as well, last season’s sacking at the hands of ridiculous Cardiff City owner (and part-time Bond villain) Vincent Tan was widely considered a rash decision on the part of the Malaysian businessman. The Bluebirds eventually went down under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, meekly exiting the Premier League with little more than a whimper. Since his sacking, Mackay had always been a name linked to various positions at lower table clubs suffering dire spells. This latest development could land a massive blow to his reputation (and, looking at the despicable content of the text messages in question, it would be a deserved blow if Mackay turns out to be responsible). Crystal Palace will have to look elsewhere to fill their opening (chortle). But who else remains? It’s a vicious circle for the lower table clubs in England; when good results aren’t forthcoming, the axe looms over the manager, but then what? Who comes in to replace them? Often it’s more of the same. The merry-go-round of managers at lower table clubs keeps mediocrity in business, and in turn, keeps those clubs fighting for survival season after season.

If your second best options are Tim Sherwood and Martin Jol, then there is a problem. When the somehow-still-employed Ian Holloway was sacked after leading Palace into the most dire of situations a third of the way into last season, Tony Pulis came riding in to execute a miraculous turnaround. Pulis is an expert at maintaining mid-table finishes; he represents an iron-clad guarantee of safety, but then on the other hand, he promises nothing more than 10th place, more or less. He became a hero at Palace, responsible for their Houdini-like escape. But as we saw at Stoke City, the Pulis shine wears off after a few seasons, despite the security. All lower table teams, no matter how delusional it is, aspire to more than just safety every season. Enner Valencia spoke of his desire to push West Ham to new, European heights after his transfer. Everyone listening had to stifle their sniggers. So how can clubs wax lyrical about higher ambitions, then go and hire managers who excel only at maintaining adequacy?

West Ham are in a relevant quagmire. Last season finished awfully for the Hammers; after a winning spell in February inspired by Kevin Nolan (a run that effectively ensured safety) the results and the performances got worse and the mood in the stands became nearly untenable. The owners had opted to stick with Sam Allardyce earlier in the season when the calls for his head got to eardrum-splitting levels of intensity. That proved a wise decision, albeit one based on lack of quality alternatives, as much as faith in Big Sam himself. He was charged with instating a more positive style this off-season and a raft of new players were brought in at considerable expense. More signings are expected before the transfer period closes but, as of yet, results are poor. Pre-season was a disaster, with only 1 win recorded. Losses to Sydney F.C and Wellington Phoenix during the tour of New Zealand were hallmarked by a clear lack of comfort and a sense of disorganisation, with grumpy reluctance on the part of Allardyce. You can see why Allardyce feels hard done by; he has done everything he was hired to do, in the way that everyone knows he does it in. So, say results continue to be bad, West Ham suddenly have an uphill battle to escape relegation, and the owners succumb to the pressure raining down from the stands of the Boleyn Ground. They sack Sam Allardyce and hire a manager to keep them up, like… say, Tony Pulis. The vicious circle rolls on.

Invariably, when a club finds itself in a position like Crystal Palace’s, there are three ways they can proceed. Firstly, they can gamble on an untested, possibly foreign manager, always a dicey choice. It can end badly, like Pepe Mel at West Brom and Solskjaer at Cardiff, or it can be more successful, ala Pochettino at Southampton. Secondly, they could go for a veteran, like Palace did with Pulis, and West Ham with Allardyce. It also worked for a while with Jol at Fulham, until his policy of only signing players who don’t defend backfired. The third option is to pick a manager from the lower leagues in England, like Sunderland have done with Gus Poyet, to great success. But then it took them two tries, after Paolo Di Canio imploded spectacularly, leaving Poyet with a massive job to do straight away. Basically, with this in mind, the chances of success for a lower table club, let alone progression to a higher level, are slim to none when replacing a manager. And when a manager does succeed, and does lead a team to bigger and better things, he gets snapped up by a bigger club, like Pochettino with Spurs, and Rogers with Liverpool (and you could argue the same about Martinez and Everton). There is a continual tamping down process, not just with players, but also with managers in the Premier League; the status quo must be maintained. Even when a lower team achieves unexpected success, like when Alan Pardew’s Newcastle finished 5th, the pressure for them to match or better that result the next year is immense. In Pardew’s case, not even an 8 year contract can stop your position from being threatened the very next season. Being a football manager in England isn’t easy. After being let go by Champions League participants Bayer Leverkusen, Sami Hyypia went to Brighton in the Championship, a considerable step down from third place in the Bundesliga.

So the problem Crystal Palace are facing existed long before Tony Pulis walked out, long before Malky Mackay’s text messages surfaced. Whoever they pick, they will have to fight against the current pulling them down the table, as will any other struggling clubs who choose to swing the axe this season. Maybe David Moyes fancies a relegation battle, I mean, it couldn’t go any worse than his last gig did.

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