One of the things that makes professional sport great sometimes is its unforgiving nature.
If you’re even a little less good than you think you are, you get found out.
Oftentimes that’s a searing, scorching experience and it has wrecked careers.
One of the best examples I’ve found of this is in Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch when he’s talking about Gus Caesar, who emerged from the trusted Arsenal Youth Academy and into the England squad within a couple of years, and then proceeded to go rapidly, and inescapably, downhill when it was realised that, actually, he wasn’t that great a footballer.
Sometimes these things are immediately apparent.
A friend of mine went to Celtic Park to watch a pre-season friendly after we signed Rafael from Brazil. He came back from that match and met a few of us in the pub, and his reaction to seeing the player in the flesh was a mixture of amusement and horror.
“He’s got nothing,” he said, laughing because it was either that or cry. “I watched him and there’s absolutely nothing there.”
Indeed there wasn’t.
A £5 million transfer fee netted us a return of one start, against St Johnstone in the SPL.
A full season later, Martin O’Neill took one look at him, in training, and concluded what my mate had.
“I like footballers who can play well,” the Irishman told him. “Footballers who are nothing like you.” He sent him packing at once.
All the hype in the world does you no good in the white hot spotlight which professional sport shines on you. Scotland’s “manager of the year” is, I think, only a few months away from finding that out, and like Gus Caesar in his infamous Wembley calamity against Spurs I predict that it won’t be long before he’s flailing on the turf, and we wonder how he could have kidded so many, for so long, that he had something after all.
When I heard that Warburton had won the manager’s gong I was both unsurprised and heartily amused. With the player of the year awards being spectacularly one-sided affair, and both heading for Celtic Park, there was little chance that something wouldn’t be tossed the way of Ibrox, and it was easy enough to predict.
Is he Scotland’s best manager? Of course not.
My money at the moment would be on Robbie Neilson, and if he didn’t deserve it last season for a barnstorming triumph in the same league as Warburton and he didn’t earn it this season with the way they’ve played in the SPL then no-one does.
More to the point, in spite of his travails this year, if Ronny Deila wasn’t considered good enough last season, after winning a double, getting to another cup semi-final and qualifying out of a Europa League group then, frankly, the whole award criteria is a travesty and a bad joke in the first place.
Last year, John Hughes won for getting Inverness into Europe via a third place SPL finish and because they won the Scottish Cup. You could argue all day and all night about whether that was a greater achievement than what Ronny did, but that’s part of my point.
Because Ronny did it “at Celtic.”
Which negates the achievement somewhat in the eyes of many people.
I would understand their point – in part – except that those people are the same ones who’ve spent the last year, in particular, telling us that Sevco is the second biggest team in Scotland and will challenge us in the SPL title next season.
Follow that logic, and the fact the spending differential between them and their own closest challengers down there is something like six or seven to one.
These people need to make their minds up about what Sevco is; a Championship team or an SPL challenger who just happens to play in that league?
By that token, a question:
Why’s Warburton’s achievement real and not Deila’s from last year?
Can beating Celtic (on penalties) in a cup game – a result so bad for us we’ve dismissed our manager over it – really earn you such an award?
Is that all it takes? Is that why John Hughes was considered worthy last year? Where does it leave Ross County boss Jim McIntyre? He beat us too, and finished a whole six places higher than Sevco in the Scottish professional ranks.
This is what I meant last night when I said Sevco matters.
The contrasting fortunes of this guy and our own manager are clear to see. One has been hounded. The other is lauded. Yet their league records are similar and Deila’s cup record is better, when you discount the third tier tournament for which Celtic was ineligible.
But that unforgiving light shines on them both regardless.
Ronny has been judged to have failed, and by the standards of success we’re looking for he has.
Outside of Scotland no-one’s terribly impressed by Warburton’s own “triumph” and next season will expose his skills, or lack thereof, in the most brutal way imaginable.
English football has just seen a sterling example of what real accomplishment looks like and anyone in Sevconia who thinks top clubs down there are looking at their manager with admiration only needs to look at the response of Everton fans to the very notion that he could wind up on their shortlist if Roberto Martinez leaves.
“Mark Hughes, Mark Warburton? Are these names being leaked to convince the wavering fans to stick with Martínez?” asked one, and that was a mild example.
Another cut right to the chase, and how.
“Absolutely not. We want a top manager who has won major honours, not a park football manager who has won Mickey Mouse trinkets.”
A park manager who has won Mickey Mouse trinkets.
Even accounting for typical EPL arrogance, the core of truth in that is undeniable. I couldn’t have come up with a better, more accurate summation of what we’re talking about here, and he’s done so with the second biggest wage bill in the country … and that is manager of the year material?
Pull the other one. At any other club these “feats” would be ignored and the award would have gone to someone who’d actually earned it, someone who’d grafted in the blood and the mud, as Ranieri and his boys had to.
This is an embarrassing decision that reflects badly on our game, and the sports writers are almost certain to make the same one.
There are no words for the contempt in which I hold some of the people in our sport.