AS CHELSEA celebrated their deserved Premier League title success, Frank Lampard was asked if coach Antonio Conte could go on to build a dynasty at the club. “I think so,” was Lampard’s reply.
How many times have we heard this question when any club enjoys some success. At Chelsea it has been tabled regularly as commentators predict that “this time it will be different”. Such nonsense, such a misguided sentiment.
English football does not allow a dynasty to be built at a club. The short-termism of the Premier, where managers get two years, at best, to change the world, means that they are just as likely to be moved on at the hint of failure. Conte may even win the double this season, but if he ends 2017-18 potless, he is at risk of being moved on. Like the mythical academy products playing in the first team, the commitment to building something long-term is something to be talked about when the silver is being polished.
Don’t believe me? Carlo Ancelotti won the double in 2009-10 but a year later, failed to win anything. He was sacked in the dead of night following the club’s last game.
Dynasties are not just about a period of success or stability, they are about embedding a philosophy, asset of values and a common approach across generations. One of the definitions of dynasty is: “succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field”. Doesn’t sound too much like the modern game.
When people talk about the “dynasty” established by Sir Alex Ferguson, they are so wrong. Ferguson arrived at Manchester United in 1986 after a period in which the shadow of Sir Matt Busby refused to go away. Busby presided over an empire, but when it was time to hand over the reins, he opted for a chosen son in Wilf McGuinness, an early attempt at creating that dynasty. It floundered, just as Ferguson’s own choice of successor, David Moyes, failed to follow such a larger-than-life character. What happened to United? They eventually went for the absolute antithesis of the “United way” in the form of Jose Mourinho. If a club like United cannot successfully install a dynastic approach, what chance have the “johnny come latelies” got?
The only big English club that has made a decent fist of it is Liverpool. When Bill Shankly retired, his trusty number two, Bob Paisley, was given the job. When the cardiganed Bob went, it was Joe Fagan and then the baton was handed over to Kenny Dalglish. The legendary “boot room” was Liverpool’s way of opting for seamless succession, something not many clubs have been able to entertain. It’s arguable that Liverpool would not get away with appointing the next man along the dugout today – everyone craves a big name these days.
There’s a distinct difference between building an empire and laying the seeds of a dynasty. Arsene Wenger has been emperor of Arsenal for over 20 years, but when he goes, there is a risk that the club will struggle to deal with the fallout – something which is undoubtedly behind the panto game of “will he, won’t he” that has stained Arsenal’s 2016-17 season. It is unrealistic to expect that Steve Bould, Wenger’s assistant, will step-up to ensure disruption is minimal. Similarly, the reluctance of Manchester United to give Ryan Giggs the job is also indicative of the modern game and the need for a big club to appoint a coach with an equally sizeable reputation.
Managers with big reputations and the ego to match are a tough act to follow – just ask David Moyes. The truly inspirational managers who bring unprecedented success to a club unwittingly leave scorched earth behind them. When Don Revie left Leeds United in 1974, it was the start of the decline of a team that between 1965 and 1974, enjoyed consistency that few could live with. It had become Revie’s club, in much the same way that Nottingham Forest became Brian Clough’s. Ipswich Town were never the same after Bobby Robson’s departure and Watford took a long time to deal with the loss of Graham Taylor. These examples only serve to underline the genuine talent of the managers and their ability to build something outstanding for a limited timespan that amounted to sustained outperformance by an unfashionable club. But nothing goes on forever, and neither should it as every individual has their window of creativity that eventually runs dry.
Some clubs outside of England try make managerial appointments less of a drama. Barcelona, for instance, have tried to hire from within, although some critics are now suggesting they should seek their next coach from the broader market. Ajax also have their way of doing things. At the end of the day, football club presidents demand success, so the concept of bringing in a coach and constructing a set-up that everyone can live and breathe by is not only unlikely in England, but also uneconomical in the short-term.
Conte and Chelsea? At the moment, the love affair is blossoming and the title secured in reasonable style. He has the sort of personality that fans love, but let’s test it when things go wrong. It is a fair bet that Conte won’t be in charge in three years’ time unless he wins the UEFA Champions League in the next two or the modus operandi changes at Stamford Bridge. And there’s one thing you can be sure of, nothing stays the same for too long at Chelsea.