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Managing Fans’ Expectations In The EPL

Indulge me for a moment and imagine for a second that you are at your place of work. It is an ordinary day at the office and you are going about your business attending to tasks as you are expected to. Now, how would you feel if out of nowhere, a huge mass of people starts criticizing your performance. This mob scrutinizes every move and decision you make and never give you the opportunity to explain why you chose an approach they ‘don’t like’. And here is the kicker, more than 99% of the people screaming at you and calling for your head because they claim you are doing an abysmal job and a clearly unfit wouldn’t last a day in the office.

The above scenario is this writer’s simplistic generalization of the day in the life of an EPL manager. For the readers that are still skeptical about the highly-pressurized environment that is an EPL managerial position, it is hardly a ringing endorsement when you have people taking bets on how soon you will be fired or how long you will last on the job. As fans, we tend to assume we know what’s best for the club. Unfortunately, our primary goal is to win as many games as possible. In a league with 20 teams, not every one of them will win 20+ games. The question this article seeks to discuss is rather simple, will managers be best served being completely honest about a team’s chances going into a game [and season]? And will this approach result in [for a lack of a better word], more well-informed and behaved fans that are aware of the team’s expectations going into the season.

A Cry for Honest Mangers?

Martinez deserves a better club that Wigan

In tackling the first question posed by this article, the implicit assumption being made here is that fans are rational and will behave as such. This however is not the case. Honesty may be the best policy but nothing riles up a football fan like being informed that the team s/he supports isn’t in to win it. From an entertainment standpoint, it might make the league more boring. For example, if the manager of Everton F.C. states ahead of the game against Manchester City that he expects his boys to lose, there is really no incentive for Everton fans and neutrals to watch a game whose outcome has, to some degree been predicted. By the opposition manager no less.

This is not to say that the fans of mid-table teams such as Newcastle and Fulham should not harbor hopes of causing an upset against the league’s elite teams. Rather, there should be an understanding of the ability of a team based on the players and talent available. A top 6 finish for the aforementioned teams this season will be nothing short of a miracle and with this knowledge in mind, fans should not be so quick to hurl abuses at the managers of both teams when they begin to have a bad run of games. It is hard to swallow as a fan but just as you would not appreciate your boss at work having unrealistic targets for you at work, that same courtesy should be extended to managers.

Passion for the Game

And will this approach result in [for a lack of a better word], more well-informed and behaved fans that are aware of the team’s expectations going into the season.

Many football fans can recall where they were for the greatest sporting moments in their club histories. Be it a famous away win or a spectacular transfer coup. What is undeniable is that the passion and love for the sport is what drives your average fan. It is this writer’s opinion that part of being a fan is to harbor unrealistic expectations. Every Spurs fan enters each season believing that this is the year their North-London rivals will not celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day [it is when Arsenal fans celebrate the fact that Spurs can no longer pass them in the league standings].

That’s the beauty of being a fan, having your wildest belief and hope in your team be validated. Nothing beats that feeling and when your hopes are dashed, it does leave your average fan distraught, disappointed and angry. The manager is often at the end of fans’ anger and with our 24/7 news cycle and the popularization of football forums and websites such as this, there are more than enough social spaces for fans to vent.

Maintaining the Status Quo

I will be the first to admit that the perhaps the culture of abusive fans and managers fighting to save their jobs under the pressure of unrealistic expectations is a result of the globalization and commodification of football. Whether that argument holds merit or not, the reality on the ground is that there are a lot of angry fans after matches. The fans’ anger is only matched by the distraught looking managers who try their best to remain upbeat in their post-match interviews. I do not expect much to change as this is the culture of modern football. Patience is a luxury fans can no longer afford and a scarce commodity for managers.

This writer would like to end by recommending a dose of ‘perspective’ for every football fan, irrespective of the team you support. Next time you feel let down by your club’s manager and are poised to launch a scathing attack on him on some football forum, call a radio show or just curse at him while the post-match interview is being played—-pause for a moment and put yourself in your manager’s shoes.