One Man’s Three-Man Job

Sarena Malsin, Sports Editor

European professional soccer leagues are cutthroat, with each team constantly jockeying for higher rankings and greater popularity on and off the field. But the ball defi­nitely isn’t the only thing being passed around. Aside from the actual game of soccer, there is also a game of strategy constantly in play within these leagues, one which involves the movement of money, play­ers and staff to build the most successful team.

Teams in crisis are most guilty of these shadow games, as they are constantly strug­gling to stay relevant in the competitive atmosphere of European professional soccer. Liverpool F.C. recently shoul­dered its way to the forefront when it fired its manager Bren­dan Rodgers and replaced him with Jurgen Klopp. The reshuf­fling of staff among flounder­ing teams isn’t an uncommon situation in England’s Barclays Premier League at the mo­ment: Rodgers’ termination is likely to precede that of Man­chester United Manager Louis van Gaal after the team was embarrassingly defeated by Arsenal F.C. at home, and that of Arsenal’s seemingly tenured manager Arsène Wenger after Arsenal lost in the Champions League, the second-tier Eng­lish premier league.

Rodgers’ termination has sparked a resurgence in criticisms of Barclays Premier League, which has underper­formed in the last decade in comparison to its European counterparts, such as Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. The reasons for these clubs’ disappointing performances are somewhat of a mystery, as England, with all of its wealth, should have the resources and capital to cultivate at least one successful squad. However, it is this sense of urgency and frustration inherent in competition and politics that is fueling the league’s demise.

Club owners are nixing their managers and leadership at the slightest sign of faltering or fail­ure without allowing for any meaningful results. According to the League Managers Association, the average period of employment for a Barclays Premier League manager is 1.23 years; in the Champions League, it’s 0.86 years. Neither of these represent a realistic time period to reshape and galvanize a demoralized team, a sentiment that is shared by Rodgers’ colleagues and many soccer analysts.

This impatience, the increasing amount of re­sponsibilities allocated to club managers and the aggressive shaming of clubs who underperform in English leagues all put an inordinate amount of pressure on club managers. Essentially, club own­ers are calling upon one individual to handle a job that should be relegated to at least three other people. But it isn’t just the managers suffering from these demands. Rodgers’ termination repre­sents two critical ways in which Premier League impatience negatively impacts professional players — giving players less power over their own fates to make managers’ jobs easier, and ensuring the in­stability of teams by constantly switching the staff. These decisions rob players of a consistent career and in-game mindset, as managerial staff seem to have a role in crafting strategy for their teams.

Rodgers’ position was in jeopardy because he failed to change Liverpool’s fortunes since his start in 2012. To accomplish this, he was expected to enact a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and player roster after losing two critical Liverpool players: the powerful offensive and shoulder-chomping force Luis Suárez and the young midfielder Raheem Sterling.

Both of these players exerted some of their own agency by leaving Liverpool. Suárez participated in negotiations with FC Barcelona, triggering a buyout clause in his contract following the 2013-2014 season, and Sterling twisted Liverpool’s arm to initi­ate his transfer to Manchester City FC. Their actions have spurred speculation that it may be more efficient to allot even more power to club managers in order to stabilize team ros­ters and prevent players from leaving of their own volition, effectively scaling back some of the basic rights and freedoms players have as employees. Luis Suárez isn’t really a victim of the European soccer scene — he ranks in the top 20 highest-paid soccer players in the world — but his departure does spotlight the blatant mishandling of managerial issues in clubs. The main prob­lem here is that the weight of a team’s suc­cess has become the burden of club man­agers alone, but club owners seem like they are planning to circumvent this issue at the expense of professional players, reducing their ability to control job security, salary and personal employment preferences to simplify managerial responsibilities.

Another concerning side effect of trad­ing players like game pieces is that the age limit of the recruiting pool gets lower and lower, intensifying youth academies’ stan­dards to the point where lines between junior and professional leagues begin to blur. There’s a disconnect within the organization and the hyper-competitive mentality of Premier League soccer clubs in general; the Barclays Premier League is just a glaring example. While most of the blame falls on manage­ment and supervisory personnel, in an effort for these men to keep their jobs with frantic shuffling, firing and power grabs, it’s the play­ers who stand to bear most of the burden.