Leicester City’s treatment of Claude Puel reveals the rampant short-termism of modern football
Premier League clubs have never before enjoyed such riches. Nor have their owners and fans ever expected more for their money.
As Claude Puel watched on helplessly from the sideline, he must have known what was coming next.
After just four wins in Leicester City’s last 17 league games, the Frenchman became the subject of much speculation around his future.
That speculation intensified as 17 became 18, not least because the latest unsuccessful outing came in a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Crystal Palace.
Granted, three goals came after Puel’s side had been reduced to ten men. But the manner of Leicester’s defeat did little to ease the growing pressure on the man in the dugout.
But while last weekend’s defeat was a troubling one, the fact that Puel was facing up to doubts about his future even before kick-off at Selhurst Park is indicative of a very modern phenomenon.
For while the influx of huge amounts of money has transformed the quality on show in the top tier of English football, so too does it seem to have changed the expectations of those watching the sport.
It was once a commonly held belief that in order for a manager to make a team “his”, he required three years in his post. That was deemed sufficient time for him to assess the lay of the land, root out the bad eggs and integrate his own players and style according.
Now such a timescale is a pipe dream for most managers. Once Arsene Wenger departs from Arsenal at the season’s end, just three clubs will have had managers in place for three years or more. Few are likely to follow suit.
Puel is keen to impress upon Leicester’s hierarchy the need to overhaul the playing squad this summer; given his current trajectory, it seems unlikely that he will be granted permission to oversee it.
Though Leicester’s impressive early season form has tailed off, it should be remembered that they finished 12th last year.
They are almost certain to finish no lower than 10th this time around which, while not the sort of leap they may have hoped for, still represents improvement.
Moreover, Puel had to deal with his star player Riyad Mahrez going AWOL in January in a bid to force a move to Manchester City.
That he has been integrated back into the side is testament to his manager; it would also be remiss to ignore this episode when considering reasons for the club’s slide in form.
Leicester players are said to be unhappy with some of Puel’s methods but it should be remembered that this is a squad which fell out of love with Claudio Ranieri less than a year after he led them to perhaps the most unlikely English title in history.
Sacking a manager is often the easiest option available to clubs. It does not mean it is the right one.
A Premier League pandemic?
Fan impatience and boardroom agitation is not confined to the King Power Stadium. Look through England’s top tier and, indeed, throughout the lower divisions too and you will find a swathe of hasty decisions and swift about-turns. Blips are mistaken for unacceptable troughs with patience at a premium.
Last weekend saw Newcastle United booed off by some sections of the St James Park crowd, following a home loss to bottom side West Bromwich Albion.
No matter that Rafa Benitez’s side had achieved safety from relegation with room to spare, some were unwilling to accept that poor performances can happen. Though it was a small minority that were culpable, trying to understand how these people think is baffling.
Similarly, up in the boardroom, clubs increasingly reach for the panic button above any other option. Returning full circle to Puel, it was he who found himself ousted after just one season at Southampton.
They had reached a League Cup final and finished eighth. Now, they are odds-on to be relegated, and look set to return to the Championship for the first time in six years.
Such unrealistic expectations from both within and outside of clubs are problems that afflict football beyond this country’s borders.
A venture to Spain, for example, would see one stumble upon a fairly sizeable managerial scrapheap. But that does not mean that the increasing detachment from reality on display in England is any more palatable.
This is the modern way
It is arguably a consequence of the world we live in.
With the instantaneous reaction afforded by the likes of Twitter, not to mention the fact such media give voices to any and everyone, displays of howling anger are much more visible than they once were. What was once kept within the four walls of the pub on a Saturday night is now tapped out for the world to see, gaining traction as like-minded reactionaries hop on board.
Problematically, clubs have done little to stem the flow. Instead of investing in the long-term, they
increasing prioritise on the here and now. Southampton were a good example of a club which laid out solid foundations across a number of years, yet their recent turn to a trigger-happy approach is likely to undo all of their previous good work.
Claude Puel is now deemed to have three games to save his job at Leicester City. If he wins all three, they will likely finish eighth; lose all three and they will likely finish tenth. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter all that much.
But in the world of modern football, those three games are set to decide the Frenchman’s fate and, potentially, widen the Premier League’s ever-growing expectation gap.