A Football Manager’s Love on the Rocks

By Mark Burke

Editor’s Note: Mark is an ex-professional footballer who played at Aston Villa, Wolverhampton, and Middlesbrough in the late 80s/early 90s, as well as abroad in Holland, Japan, Romania, and Sweden. He provides deep, unique insight into the game and its surrounding business and tactics. This piece focuses on the mindset of a football manager in his toughest position, so it’s also worth mentioning that Mr. Burke is a fully qualified UEFA A license coach.

First they say they want you, how they really need you, suddenly you find you’re out there walking in a storm

Did Neil Diamond have a part-time job as a manager somewhere? 

"Suddenly you find you’re out there watching Plymouth Argyle reserves for expenses only and the hope of making a contact for a new job"

That last line doesn’t rhyme does it? But it fits the end of a love affair between a football club and it’s football manager very well indeed. His lyrics describe the relationship between a football club and its manager perfectly. Neil Warnock lost his job at Queens Park Rangers. Are we surprised? Not really. 

The “pressure” had been building and building, hissing and bubbling, and now finally the lid blows off and the “pressure” is released by the sacking of the manager. A friend of mine recently lost his job as a football manager at a club abroad. Completely out of the blue, big success one season, average start in the next and Bam! Bye bye.

For most newly unemployed managers, unless they get something else quickly, they will subject themselves to weeks and months of self-pity and worry. Neil Warnock’s case will be different. He is a successful manager at the top end of the game and as far as finance goes he will have enough to keep the big bad wolf away from the door until the next job comes around. But the fate of the average out of work manager? That’s a totally different thing.

I can hear people saying “well, he’ll be okay. He’ll get paid up. He’ll soon jump back on the old managerial merry go-round” (has anyone ever seen that? I can picture a lot of middle-aged managers on their little horses going up and down as they swap seats with each other at regular intervals.) While it’s true that the bigger managers get good sums to leave and settle into a nice sofa for some comfortable, no pressure match analysis, a nice breather from the game and a chance to catch a little perspective on the madness, the vast majority are racked with fear and self-doubt.

Many are forced to abandon principles if they want to get back into the game by putting a brave face on, putting themselves out there. Going to games, as many games as they can, attending coaching seminars and hoping to meet that right contact to get them back in the game.

Networking is the name of the game for the out of work manager who is not quite high profile enough for people to be knocking on his door. For an out of work manager, it’s a storm of anger, doubt, some depression, unfulfilled ambition, self-loathing, compromised principles. 

The club moves on without him, scarcely glancing back, the king is dead long live the king, the new man is all that counts now. 

"Yes we are delighted to have secured a man of his calibre. Obviously, ‘Neil’ did a great job but in the end the board felt it was time to move on and find somebody to take us to the next ‘level‘. 

They should just tape that paragraph and press play each time a new manager comes in. A manager arrives to smiles, handshakes and usually leaves with a thousand small daggers embedded in his cashmere coat. The club bends over backwards to meet any demands the new manager has. “Anything you want, we’ll sort it out, anything else we can do for you?” 

This is the time the new man must strike! He will never be so powerful as on this day. He must get his ‘orders’ in quickly before any poor performances on the field dilute his ‘power’.

Applauded and fawned over on arrival, on departure it’s… 

 “Goodbye! And by the way, we need your car back in the morning and you need to be out of the house by the end of the month as the new gaffer wants it, oh yes and almost forgot we won’t be paying you your remaining 3 years in full as we agreed but we’ll give you six months full pay and we can go our separate ways, that’s okay isn’t it? You don’t mind that do you? Oh! You do?” 

"Okay then we’ll see you in court and get it sorted, of course we will pay you monthly until its sorted out but you know you can’t work for anybody else or be connected to any other club in any shape or form until it’s all sorted."

"One more thing. If we do find out you have been talking to another club even if it’s about the weather then you will be in breach of contract, you’re aware of that? Okay? Fine."

"The court case shouldn’t take long. It won’t take longer than 6-12 months, hopefully."

It’s hard to imagine that a football clubs could be that petty. It’s difficult to believe that as soon as they have disposed of a manager he essentially ceases to exist. Surely those years of dedicated service, thinking 24 hours about the well-being of the club and its players means something? 

Managers are risking their health with a ridiculous workload (a lot of it self-inflicted), but it doesn’t mean a thing if results are poor. A manager I know had to give up half a million pounds he was owed if he wanted to work for another club or he could still be sat at home watching daytime television in the morning and looking forward to pruning the roses in the garden in the afternoon.

So although the merry go round looks like it’s always turning and everybody’s smiling, at times the horses come to a grinding halt and a lot of middle aged men are sat on them staring at each other and wondering “what the beep am I going to do now?” 


Love on the Rocks (B-side) 

Love on the Rocks, 

ain’t no surprise

“you’ve lost 3 games on the run, so let’s say our goodbyes”

we can’t afford to lose 

next game’s against the Blues, so goodbye”


Gave you my heart, 

Gave you some goals

Now you’ve sent me away, 

Now my future looks cold 

Centre half slipped

Now all I want is my cheque 

First they say they want you

How they really need you

Suddenly you find you’re out of work

Just because you’ve drawn


When they know have you

Then they really have you

Nothing you can do or say

You’ve to be quiet or don’t get your pay 

We all know the score


You wanted results

You wanted the best

Did all I could do

Now just need a rest

May be blue skies up high

But it’s cold when the chairman says goodbye

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