Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Football Parochialism

Much has been written about the situation enveloping Rafa Benitez, Liverpool, and its owners, Tom Hicks and Roger Gillett. The imbroglio is written about nearly every day and it seems only a matter of time before Rafa is sacked. (We here at Unprofessional Foul are just as guilty of over-wrought and over thought opinion pieces on the subject.) The owners have already inquired about replacement managers and had public spats with the manager.

Whether the fault lay with the owners, Rafa or somebody else is truly a matter of opinion. And the likely truth is that everybody is at fault to some degree. But, one sure thing is the view that Liverpool's situation is a result of the American owners' ignorance of "British football" is a stance borne out of fear, insecurity and parochialism.

The Guardian blogger, Lawrence Donegan, apparently is intrigued by these views and subscribes to the newsletter. His latest foray ham-fistedly espouses these theories.

Great Britain and the United States; two nations divided by an ocean and a wildly differing view of the manager's place in the hierarchy of a sports team or, if you prefer, sports franchise.
According to Donegan, the Americans act as though this were baseball and have shown no respect to Benitez who brought a Champions League crown to Anfield in 2005. Baseball, the American sport, shows no respect to managers and this uncouthness is now being imposed on football.

It's different in the world of North American baseball, where the team manager is the guy who picks the team, executes the match-day tactics and, if he has a strong personality or a death wish, isn't scared to challenge the club's general manager or owners - aka. the real bosses - about the club's signing policies. Nothing more. In baseball, the great managers are no longer exalted, they are treated like day workers, to be summarily dismissed at the owner's whim, as Joe Torre, who brought great success to the New York Yankees, discovered to his cost at the end of the 2007 Major League Baseball season.
And, the coup de grace...

Hicks's "reign" at Anfield has been notable mostly for the obfuscations of his slick PR machine so it would be remiss not to congratulate him for his straightforwardness on this occasion. But in his honesty he also reveals his ignorance of how football works in this country and his failure to realise the most successful clubs are those that place the greatest emphasis on continuity and loyalty. Liverpool fans can only hope that the rumours are true and that he and his cohort sell up and leave town before too much damage is done.
So, let me get this straight. Americans don't understand football and this is why Rafa hasn't so much as sniffed a premiership title in the second half of the season during his tenure. A tenure that has been longer than the owners'. Rafa whines about not having enough talent so the Americans help him out and buy wonder-striker Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel, and Andriy Voronin. And Rafa repays this support by whinging about wanting more loot for the winter transfer season, all while he slowly falls behind in the title race and showing very poorly in Champions League play. This is because the Americans don't understand British football.

Yes, Rafa has brought home Champions League glory, but suffice it to say, the Premiership title is what matters to Anfield fans and the owners want a piece of that financial pie as well. Ultimately, I liken this achievement to something akin to an American franchise posting the best record in the league but failing in the post-season. Great performance but where's the beef?

When exactly is it the manager's fault for poor on-field performance and a clear desertion by the squad of its sideline general. When is it his fault and when will Rafa share in the blame, Mr. Donegan?

Why is it that the Glazers have succeeded in spite of their "Americanosity"? Yes, the Glazers have the same American style. They once threw out a highly successful coach, Tony Dungy, to get a bigger name and hopefully a title. Jon Gruden, the name, delivered the title. So, was it wrong? Maybe, maybe not. But, it was successful.

Why exactly does Roman Abramovich not get the same treatment? He has done the same thing. He undermined and ultimately sacked a Champions League winning and consecutive Premiership title winning manager.

Why does Rafa understand British football? He's not British. Is it because he knows how to whine? Lest we not forget that it was Rafa who started the row when he whinged to the public about his dissatisfaction with the transfer budget. It was he who called them to arms and required them to react hostilely to his disregard for their position as owners. Much of this has been brought upon Rafa's shoulders by his own doing whether it be his words or his lackluster results as of late.

Or is it all just pure condescension and narrow-mindedness where none should exist? It's not like English football has been all that great. The country hasn't won a world cup in 40 years. Its league is great because of the many imports. So, why exactly should one care about "British football"? The one thing everybody cares about in sports is winning and Rafa isn't doing enough of it right now given the talent he has.

This is Britain's sporting version of "you're either with us or against us." Quit chasing the hounds and get off your high horses and step into the modern world. Suck it. Rafa has lost his team. They don't perform for him any more and it is time for a change. It's not the American owners fault, although some blame can be assigned to many parties. How about opening your eyes and trying something new? Change isn't always bad, although I'm sure England would like to live in the past where all its glory can be found.

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