I read somewhere that a regular wage earner on average gets fired once per lifetime. Some never gets fired, others several times, but the average is once per person and lifetime. Within football, this number is definitely a low one. In particular, at higher levels, it is more common to have a couple of severance pay in their back pocket.

It is not rare to hear people say that the football / soccer world has become too cynical. Everything is about results and when they are not enough, a coach gets fired (let’s face it, it’s easier and cheaper to kick a coach than a whole team). Sometimes the results are not enough. Ask Fabio Capello who was fired from Real Madrid despite winning the Spanish league. The reason? They played dull football, the board said.

Now, when coach icons like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have put the bag on the shelf, it has in some way become a kind of pink skimmer of the times that has gone by. That it was better before when coaches actually got the chance and the clubs dared to invest in them in the long run. Note that it took a while before Sir Alex actually started winning titles. It is not rarely described that Manchester United’s patience and belief in long-term and continuity were crucial to laying the foundations for the success that would later symbolize the club.

Of course, it’s not hard to dream back to these times, not at least for us coaches. We would like to keep our jobs by writing long contracts and then praying and asking for patience. At the same time, I can not help thinking we have become a bit too nostalgic here. That football + continuity does not always lead to success. Wenger, who certainly had a couple of really good seasons, can anyone honestly say he has been succesful in recent years?

Misunderstand me right here. I think of course everyone should get a chance to do their job. My coach god, Brian Clough, got 44 days in Leeds United before he got sacked. Obviously, it was a strange employment and nothing I recommend, but what says that long-term always leads to success?

I recently read an article about AC Milan, describing their recent majesty era in the mid-2000s. When they won the Champions League in 007, the players were Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. Then, the explanation for the success was the club’s continuity, that these experienced players stood for stability and long-term. When they left the same tournament less than a year later against Arsenal, the excuse was that Milan had not renewed. This despite the fact that it was basically the same team that as less than a year earlier lifted the same cup. What was previously shouted was now what was criticized. Can not make up your mind, eh? 

This issue becomes extra important at the lower levels of football. Not rarely, the squads changes radically from year to year. The core of the group usually consists, but in Sweden, in many cases it is a whole new team that will be gathered in January versus January the year before. Some players move, others test the wings in a new club, a third will have children, a fourth will study and so on. Trying to work on the same methods as the year before, despite the fact that the group is basically completely changed, would be a sort of suicide mission.

Even at higher levels, this is a problem. Attractive players move to larger clubs, the bad ones got sold or the contract expires, long-term injuries forces the club to panic signings. And then the coach is there with a whole new group of players. Then it’s not easy to be long-term.

My point here is that this thing with long term is certainly a good thing, but also a kind of football utopia. Why do we dream of something that is impossible to get? Of course, we will not make changes just because we can, but I think the key to being successful as a football coach is rather about daring to innovate, finding new approaches and always wanting to develop. Wenger ran on with the same old ideas year after year, finally the reality caught him. Just as it now seems to make for José Mourinho.

Sir Alex is an interesting example. Although he lasted for a long time, he dared to constantly develop his ideas and methods. United really did not play the same from when he took over to what he left. He also had no problems eliminating players who no longer delivered. In most cases, coaches usually become nostalgic and refuse to abandon a winning concept, but not Ferguson. It honors him and shows somewhere that long-term is not a worthy goal in itself. It is rather about developing.

Somewhere, I believe that long-term and continuity are needed to some extent, but there is a limit to it. Development is much more important than continuity. Otherwise, we stagnate as a coaches and get worse, or others get better. Where this limit is, I do not know. Expecting large-scale works during a season may be too demanding, but adhering to the same method when no major results or improvements have been seen in 4-5 years may be dumbfounded.

I am tired of talking about long-term.
Let’s talk about development instead, shall we?

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