Macclesfield Town may have withdrawn their offer of “cash for a game” sponsorship, but the whole episode does show how football is willing to prostitute itself in order to raise money. How embarrassing for the club, firstly that they choose to do this at all, but also that they have climbed down, claiming that it was a “light-hearted” attempt to engage with the local community. It looks like another case of a club flying too high and living beyond its means.
There’s something even more worrying, and it should be the PFA, Managers’ association and the FA that should be most concerned. It’s something of a closed shop, is football, and they jealously guard their territory. Most managers don’t really listen to fans, or indeed pundits, because “you haven’t played the game….how can you judge it?”, or words to that effect. It’s a bit like the old adage, “those that can’t do, teach”.
I’ve come across this insularity on more than one occasion. One former professional, a talented under-achiever, once ended an interview with, “If you talk to intelligent people, you learn things”. While another, after he had asked my opinion on a player and didn’t get the response he wanted, commented: “That’s why I am a football manager and you write about it.” Another manager once asked me to put my UEFA coaching badge on the table after I questioned his tactics. So the message is clear: we are the professionals, it is our game, we invite you in occasionally. In response, I would say, we all know how to play football, but most of us don’t do it well. Some of the best managers were not outstanding players.
This “cash at all costs” approach has manifested itself in many ways, but a growing trend, that captures the zeitgeist, especially at non-league level, is purchasing a place in the dugout. Local businessmen have flexed their ego by offering cash, either in lump sum form or on a drip-feed basis, for a management or coaching role. The club gets ready-available funds and inflated wages for its players, the benefactor has his ego massaged and runs around in a tracksuit looking as though he’s “in the game”. Eventually, the personnel that do have coaching credentials take the lead and the benefactor gets a ceremonial role as “Director of Football.” Everyone’s a winner…albeit temporarily. Or are they?
Aside from the fact that the money runs out, the hired guns go off to the next cash cow and the club goes into meltdown, the integrity of the coaching/management profession is also damaged. By accepting cash for a seat on the bench, clubs are basically saying coaching badges may as well be Blue Peter Badges. If, as managers often claim, their expertise is evidenced by the hallowed UEFA A, B or C, what credibility does any club have that sells its soul for a sackful of beans?
Furthermore, how are players supposed to feel about someone playing 10 minutes of a game because they have sponsored the club? The club is sending a dreadful message to its squad.
Thankfully, Macclesfield backed-down from their ill-conceived idea. But there will always be a club or two – in non-league circles, that is – happy to accept money from a lottery winner who wants to pretend he’s the next Alex Ferguson. At the right price, anyone can be a manager.
It won’t be too long before we see an applicant’s CV with achievements like: “Took Kempston Rovers to the Champions League in Football Manager”. Just wait and see, it will happen….