Sacking a manager is just so yesterday

RICK WAGHORN Given the perils and pitfalls of the M6, I can't in all reliability bang out a column this week with the Burnley result taken into account. So quite where the rest of City's season is heading is going to have to be left for another week.


Given the perils and pitfalls of the M6, I can't in all reliability bang out a column this week with the Burnley result taken into account.

So quite where the rest of City's season is heading is going to have to be left for another week. For some, that is probably a blessing in disguise - mention the play-offs and their season-long frustrations rapidly bubble back to the surface.

All of which left me scratching my head - until Birmingham co-owner David Sullivan rode to the rescue on the back of Blues' 7-0 humiliation by Liverpool on Tuesday night.

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Because in years gone by that, surely, would have left manager Steve Bruce facing a summons to the chairman's office the following morning, alive to the likely prospect of handing over the keys to his club car with one hand as he received his P45 in the other.

Instead, Sullivan vented his anger elsewhere - towards the players.

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For me it is an interesting exercise in the way that football might be heading, particularly for those out there who still can't for the life of them understand why the Carrow Road board have appeared to be quite so patient and understanding when it comes to Nigel Worthington's continuing grip on power.

“The players need to look at themselves and stand up and be counted. Some people aren't playing to their maximum potential,” said a furious Sullivan after Tuesday night's slaughter. “Unfortunately some of them don't see it like that. Some of them aren't earning their money.”

Many might immediately argue that it is the manager's job to make them play to their maximum potential, make them earn their money. Likewise you don't buy players who you fear might not give a monkey's six months down the line once their bank accounts are full to overflowing. Sullivan, however, appears less convinced that the root of all evil lies at the manager's door. The way he talks, you sense he believes that there might almost be some genetic failing in the make-up of the young, modern professional footballer - or, more specifically, those of the Jermaine Pennant ilk - that drives both managers and club owners alike to distraction.

For the long-suffering supporters, it is increasingly difficult to know who, exactly, to blame.

So get this quote - and for Delia Smith's “infinite patience” line you can swap Sullivan's “foreseeable future”.

The smarter money may still be on a switch at St Andrews in the summer, but for now at least the 'Bruce out!' brigade look set to be disappointed. “With regard to the manager, he is not going to be sacked this season. He won't be sacked for the foreseeable future,” said a bullish Sullivan, as the vultures gather about the Blues boss.

And what makes the Birmingham experience even more interesting is the fact that while some have argued that the Carrow Road board are too soft, too nice and too cosy a collection of individuals to grasp that managerial nettle and move Worthington on, you can hardly say the same about David Sullivan, the Gold brothers and Karren Brady. You don't get to where three of them did in the adult magazine market by being a soft touch in either life or the boardroom. And yet - as far as the fate of Bruce is concerned - they are singing off the same hymn sheet as the “Stowmarket Two”. Sacking a manager is just so yesterday. Today's approach is to seek answers elsewhere. Answers - and vengeance.

“Whatever happens this season we're going to bomb a lot of players out in the summer and bring in a lot of players that want to play for this club,” said Sullivan, presumably not a Pennant fan after the Blues rescued the one-time Port Vale boy wonder from his drink-drive jail shame at Arsenal only for him to turn up allegedly worse for wear again at training. And yet Pennant - on his day - is one of those few players that can lift Birmingham out of the ordinary.

“We've got to be much tougher with the players. We've got to demand much more of them,” fumed Sullivan, whose own rags to untold riches story owes much to his simple willingness to work for a living.

“I've got to a point now where I don't like footballers. I don't like football agents and I don't like footballers because it's so one-sided with them and it does hurt,” added Sullivan, unlikely to be throwing a Christmas party bash for his star employees.

“Some of the players don't turn up and can't be bothered to go to club events. They're on £20,000 to £30,000 a week and it does make you incredibly resentful.”

For what it is worth, as far as I'm aware nine times out of ten Norwich City players - to a man - turn up to events. As Norwich City Independent Supporters Association would no doubt confirm this from dressing room attendances at their popular players' Q&A nights.

City's players (Leon McKenzie aside) have also failed to feature in the pages of the Sunday tabloids. That may well be down to living a life well away from metropolitan tabloid gaze, but by Pennant's less-than-lofty standards Worthington has traditionally gathered a very solid and decent bunch of individuals about him.

Likewise, as far as I'm aware we've not even had a decent Page 3 girl knocking about the place since Chris Sutton teamed up with the future Mrs Sutton.

But the fact remains that the temptations and distractions laid at the feet of young footballers these days - even in this relatively quiet neck of the woods - is something players even of a late-twentysomething age never had to deal with in their teens. There are people out there who live on a completely different planet to the rest of us; work to a completely different set of rules and expectations than even many of their senior colleagues in the dressing room.

And someone, somewhere, somehow has to manage them. Look around the Premiership and work out just how many managers have gone this season. The answer - remarkably by football's standards - is just three. Alain Perrin at Portsmouth, Graeme Souness at Newcastle United and, eventually, Mick McCarthy at Sunderland.

All three found themselves conspired against as much in the boardroom as on the terraces.

In other years, you could easily have seen at least four more go - David Moyes at Everton, Chris Coleman at Fulham, Bryan Robson at West Bromwich Albion and Bruce at Birmingham.

And yet they are still all there. It is the players, for a change, that are being moved on.

For me, the landscape's changing; football is changing.

And so are footballers.

Big time.


RIGHT, that's that rubbish over for another season, one that we can safely consign alongside the likes of anywhere between 1996 and 2001 - with 2002/03 thrown in, in between - in which Norwich do basically not a lot in the mess that's the midriff of the Championship.

As ever we can run through the whole list of what-might-have-beens, be it at a dank and dismal Turf Moor or over the course of a dank and dismal season - but equally, as ever, each and every team finishes the season where they deserve to be. And in Norwich's case - for whatever reason you choose - they simply do not deserve a top six finish.

Time to phone up Leicester, Preston, Cardiff and all and pop a few points in the post as we all ideally grab our nearest bucket and spade, head for the beach and forget all about Championship football for at least the next four months.

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