First published in The Grecian, 27 August 2007, Exeter City -v- Weymouth
Whatever the post-match arguments about England’s mid-week performance against Germany, one thing was always clear. Given the choices available, no-one quite expected the 5-1 triumph of yesteryear that hailed the arrival of that new managerial hero – Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Sven’s story illustrates just how fickle the worlds of football fandom and sporting journalism can be. And though there is no comparison between the world of international footballing icons and the tough realities of the Blue Square Premier, perhaps the question of how we manage the ‘great expectations’ we have of our coaches isn’t that different.
For months the cool Swede could do no wrong. His image as a football technician was contrasted with the kick-and-hope approach many believed had stunted the English game. His unflappable temperament was heralded as a sign that, unlike those touchline prima donnas, he wouldn’t be too swayed by emotion.
How attitudes changed. Within a few years these same qualities were being dismissed as “a lack of motivational drive” and “a failure to understand the passion of the game.”
What happened was that Eriksson could not quite turn an upper-middle ranking football nation into the team of all-conquering heroes many people imagined they had a right to be. The shadow of 1966 meant that Quarter Finals in succeeding World and European championships was not enough.
So in spite of a couple of near misses and the achievement of gaining the highest percentage of points from competitive matches of any England manager, Sven’s reign ended – with a large boot from the tabloids – amid cries of ‘failure’ and ‘disaster’.
As Eriksson has shown in his club career, not least with the impact he has had on a changing and disjointed squad at Manchester City, those judgements were as superficial as the triumphalism that accompanied his earlier England results, not least the symbolic crushing of Germany.
Football these days is about instant passions, fast bucks and quick decisions. But we shouldn’t forget that there is a long view too. And those coaches who we look back on as real successes are usually the ones who had the guts to do it ‘their way’ in spite of the barracking.
We’d be wise to bear that in mind with our own Paul Tisdale. After the deep disappointment of losing at Wembley there was an understandable wave of uncertainty over the summer.
As well known faces went and last season’s play-off team became a memory, people began to make noises about whether we could really trust the manager. Who was going to replace the old players? What was the plan? Would we be ready in time for the new season?
After the opening few games things are looking clearer. With a host of injuries and a good deal of re-adjustment, it will be tough. But we’ve had a decent start. The emphasis is shifting to youth, with the back up of shrewd ‘experience imports’.
Tis is also making it clear that he’s his own man and won’t be rushed. Without Sven’s millions or experience, he remains more calculating than excitable. With no shortage of advice, he wants to take things at his own pace.
We have a long season ahead of us. For many the play-offs are being described as ‘a minimum’. But we forget that when Tisdale arrived many were unsure The Grecians had it in them to get even that far.
Having great expectations is one thing. But handling the weekly pressures of rebuilding a team and digging in for the future are what it’s really about. So let’s not leap too quickly between hope and despair.