Why there is no guarantee that change will bring success
Wise words from the Soccer Boffin
There is a lovely exchange between an interviewer and a musician in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, a film of singer Joe Cocker’s 1970 tour of the United States.
“What does the audience react best to – what single song?”
“It’s hard to say, you know. ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ always gets a good reaction.”
“That’s a guarantee?”
“Well, nothing’s guaranteed.”
Manchester City and Manchester United might have thought something had been guaranteed last year when they hired managers Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Many people said Guardiola was the best coach in the world. Most of the others said Mourinho was the best coach in the world.
Yet City’s and United’s Premier League results this season were not much better than last season. Nothing is guaranteed.
United won the EFL Cup in February and on Wednesday they could win the Europa League, which would give them entry to next season’s Champions League. But those are minor accomplishments for a club who now have the largest income in the world and the highest payroll in England. They should be celebrated, but not extravagantly.
I think changing manager is a bit like signing a new left-back. It might make a difference but probably not much, and there is no way of telling at the time whether any alteration will be for the better or the worse.
I am not saying that Real Madrid’s current left-back is no more gifted than Basingstoke Town’s current left-back. Rather I am saying that Real Madrid do not buy full-backs from Basingstoke Town and usually there is not much to choose between the full-backs they might buy. The same goes for managers.
A coach’s biggest influence on a club is in setting its tone – the style of play, standards of behaviour. I enjoyed every Manchester City game I saw this season.
I was interested in how Guardiola asked his players to move on the pitch, and loved how he asked them always to attack. It was even entertaining to watch him give instructions from the touchline, thrashing his arms as if fighting off a wasp.
But City’s results in Guardiola’s first season were not much better than in Manuel Pellegrini’s last and worst season.
For City and United there were some improvements in performance that did not feed through into superior results. City took 67 per cent of the shots in their games, United took 63 per cent. Premier League teams with those sort of shot stats usually score upward of 70 per cent of the goals in their games, which should put them in contention for the title. City and United did not and were not. Why?
For United the answer is that not enough of their shots became goals. Without the ball they were good enough to win the Premier League.
With it they were not. Compared with previous manager Louis van Gaal’s last season United had a similar level of possession and conceded slightly fewer goals, but they did not score many more even though they created a lot more scoring opportunities.
Sometimes they were just unlucky. With the same players next season they would probably score more goals. But next season they will not have the same players. They will have some new and hopefully better attackers.
To win the Premier League United would probably have to score between 20 and 30 more goals. If they do it will be because they have bought better attackers, not because Mourinho is a good manager. Even I can see what needs to be done.
City conceded a similar number of goals to last season and scored only a few more. They needed to do a bit better in both attack and defence but did not. They did have a lot more possession, though – 65 per cent, up from 57 per cent.
This season they had the ball for between four and five minutes in each match when last season they did not have the ball. But even though they spent more time attacking and less time defending they did not score many more goals and conceded only two fewer.
They created a lot of chances, but not enough led to a goal. They did not give away a lot of chances, but too many led to a goal. Sometimes they were unlucky, but Guardiola will not believe they always were.
I was one of the first to write that things were going wrong for City at both ends of the pitch. After City stopped winning every match at the start of the season many watchers saw that the defence was conceding too many goals.
The attack was not scoring enough either. To win the Premier League next season City would probably have to score about five more goals and concede about five fewer.
I expect City’s and United’s Premier League results to improve next season, but I would expect that whoever their managers were. City and United are paying for better results than they got, and they will keep replacing players in the hope that results will pick up. Probably results will pick up. But nothing is guaranteed.