Lots of people in English soccer this winter have seen the movie Moneyball.Watching BradPitt play Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, got them thinking. Ifstats had helped Beane to revolutionize traditionally anti-intellectual baseball, mightstats not help revolutionize traditionally anti-intellectual soccer, too? But there areone or two baseball-soccerdifferences that British viewers struggle to overcome. First, what’s with the scoutschewing tobacco? But above all, why does Brad Pitt play a GM? In the history of soccer,nobody has ever made a movie about a GM. In a soccer film, Pitt would have played theglamour role of head coach -- or “manager,” as the Brits call it. InMoneyball that was a subordinate role, played by defiantly unglamorous PhilipSeymour Hoffman.Continental European clubs traditionally had the equivalent ofGMs (“technical directors,” they often called them); British clubs usuallydidn’t. Either way, the guy just wasn’t taken that seriously. The manager/headcoach matted.Yet, that ancient structure is now finally crumbling. As soccerslowly becomes more intelligent, more clubs are realizing that it was crazy to give onesingle coach total power. Even in England, last bastion of absolute rule by manager, GMslook like the future. The GM is coming, and sometimes he even wears glasses and spoutsstats just like Billy Beane.The dawn of the British GM

Possibly the first “general manager” in English soccer was Sir Matt Busby atManchester United. As manager, Busby had resurrected United after the plane crash atMunich in 1958 had killed his team of “Busby Babes.” In 1969 he quit asmanager, gave himself the title “general manager” and made Wilf McGuinness“chief coach.” Four months later he sacked McGuinness and became manageragain. When Frank O’Farrell was subsequently hired as United’s manager, andwalked into the office marked “manager,” he found Busby there. O’Farrellrecalled later: “I told him, sorry, he had to move. He seemed OK about it.”But perhaps he wasn’t. O’Farrell was sacked after 18 months.Busbyhad set the template for general managers in England: They would always be seen asmeddlers, forever trying to sit on the manager’s chair. Managers encouraged fans andmedia to take this view. In English soccer, the omnipotent job of manager hastraditionally attracted egomaniacs and megalomaniacs. The manager typically wanted to runeverything alone: buy the players, pick the team, run the youth academy -- everything. The“director of football” (as the GM came to be called in British) was a rivalfor power. For decades, English managers managed to keep him out. Yet,by the late 1990s, with the Premier League attracting coaches and players from around theworld, many people in British soccer were getting interested in wacky foreign ideas. Theysaw that American sports clubs, and many serious continental soccer clubs, had GMs. Andthey could see that having a GM and a head coach made more sense than letting one managerrun the club alone like Colonel Gaddafi running Libya. The English system of rule by“absolute manager” is “frankly bonkers,” writes Barney Ronay inThe Manager: The Absurd Ascent of the Most Important Man in Football.Masters of the temporary fix

The basic problem with managers was that they were short-term messiahs. You hired themand gave them total power to rearrange the club, to buy and sell anyone they liked, butbefore long you generally sacked them and had to clear up their mess. The perfect casestudy is Tottenham Hotspur’s purchase of the Ukrainian striker Sergei Rebrov. In2000, Spurs’s manager George Graham paid Dynamo Kiev £11 million for him --nearly twice Tottenham’s previous record fee. Clearly Rebrov was meant to be along-term investment. But months later Graham was sacked. The new manager, Glenn Hoddle,didn’t like Rebrov. The record signing was benched, sent on loan to Turkey, andRebrov finally joined West Ham on a free transfer.More on soccer managers,next... Continue Reading

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