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Presenting… The Dowie Theory: Why managers should treat career moves like the stock market

NB: The name of this theory is still up for debate and amendment. It is currently the Dowie Theory because, as a Palace fan, I have seen first-hand Iain both profit and suffer at the hands of his actions. In light of recent events, however, the Benitez theory could be equally apt or, more controversially, it could even nod to the modern master, Jose Mourinho…

Addition by subtraction: Current Sky Sports pundit Iain Dowie has proven you can both win and lose on the managerial merry-go-round

After extensive research (well, typing ‘career advice for football managers’ into Google) it seems that there is, in fact, no online resource for professional dugout occupiers looking to climb the career ladder.

This, frankly, seems improbable. There’s more advice than you could ever hope to read on the worldwide web for the 21-year-old who has just graduated with a degree in ‘Facebook Studies’ from the university of South-West Avon, but there’s not so much as a pamphlet for managers looking to progress their careers?!

That can’t be right.

Lord Alan Sugar would call that a gap in the market, and so here’s an early attempt to fill it. Football managers aren’t businessmen, but perhaps they should take the time to learn a thing too. Because the football world, particularly from their often-precarious position (which is invariably nearer the boardroom than the goalmouth), can share many similarities.

Learn how to play the market, and you too can learn how to rise the management ladder, just as the likes of Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson have done.

The rest (the winning games part, which admittedly is probably the main part) is up to you, though.

“Ladies and gentlemen: The Dowie Theory…”

NB: This guide primarily focuses on the English game, as it is there that managers tend not to be given too many further opportunities following a calamitous spell. This is in contrast to other countries, most notably Italy, where you can perhaps get away with the odd cock-up with less difficulty.

Why football management is like the stock market

Sell high

This is the first lesson because, more often than not, it is likely the first you will need. Your first job in the game will be decided by a variety of other factors — your playing career, you coaching background — but your second (or third, or fourth…), assuming the results are acceptable, could well be down to you.

The key, then, is to be aware of your current club’s limitations. If you’ve take them to the top half of the table but believe significant investment would be needed to take them any higher (that’s you, David Moyes), then look to cash in your chips (seriously, why have you been dallying for so many years?). The worst thing you can do, once you’ve identified what you think is the peak, is hang around.

Illustration: Hello, generic stock market indicator graphic!

Because if you do, one of a few things will happen — and none particularly good. Firstly, you will continue to manage and see a slow (albeit inevitable) drop in results. You might see such slipping standards for what they are, but the board and fans will not. They will not recognise limitations, just unmet expectations.

You will be fired.

The second option, is that the board are persuaded to provide the ‘significant investment’, in which case there are a few subsequent eventualities. Firstly, the significant investment doesn’t lead to higher finishes, in which case you will be sacked .

Secondly, the investment does lead to higher finishes, but ultimately cripples the club financially — in which case your achievements will be diminished by the perception they were ‘bought’, and you will be sacked and castigated within the footballing community for your involvement, (say hello, David O’Leary).

Thirdly, the investment does lead to an improvement in results, and you successfully jump ship (to a more sea-worthy one at that) before all the chickens come home to roost. A word of caution, however: This is known as the ‘Harry Redknapp option’, as he is the only manager to successfully achieve it.

Even that route, however, underlines the key point that you need to know the perfect time to sell your ‘stock’. Don’t get too greedy, just take what profit you can and move onto the next job. Alan Curbishley stuck around for ages after doing a phenomenal job at Charlton, but after a while the results no longer seemed so phenomenal and all he could eventually muster was a practically sideways move to West Ham.

Roy Hodgson took Fulham as far as he thought possible, and at that very point in time took the opportunity to become manager at Liverpool. Although that is something we will touch on more in the next lesson:

Buy low

After a few years, and jobs, in management, you should enjoy something of a reputation and know a bit more about how the market works. Once you have decided to sell your stock in your current club, it is often equally vital you heed the other lesson of the markets — you look to buy low.

It can be very tempting to take the highest offer you can find, but this is not always an efficient long-term strategy. You have to think in terms of your reputation and the next step on the career ladder, not just the immediate effect on your bank balance (which, history seems to tell us, is a trap many seem to fall in).

A perfect example of this is Curbishley’s successor at Charlton, Iain Dowie. The former West Ham striker got the first part of the market right, selling his shares in Crystal Palace when they were near their highest. In fact, Dowie’s career is a masterful example of playing the market: He joined Palace from Oldham when the Eagles’ stock was at its lowest (entrenched in the relegation zone, albeit with a squad markedly similar to one Steve Bruce had got to the top of the league only a year or so prior) and successfully took on a memorable promotion run and then reasonable account of themselves in the Premier League.

It can be very tempting to take the highest offer you can find, but this is not always an efficient long-term strategy. You have to think in terms of your reputation and the next step on the career ladder, not just the immediate effect on your bank balance.

One failed push to return to the top flight later, and Dowie’s reputation was still high enough to land him a job offer from Charlton.

But the northern Irishman’s big mistake was to take it (his slightly smaller mistake was the way he took it, resigning from Palace to be ‘nearer his family’ in the north west and then moving all of an inch across an A-Z map of London). Because, as the quicker students might already have gathered, Charlton’s stock was already pretty much as high as it could be.

Curbishley had taken a club of ultimately limited size and budget to the top half of the Premier League for many seasons running. That was now the expectation for the fans, but it was actually a limit for the long-serving Curbs, who eventually walked away. Dowie should have been more aware that, without significant investment (which sort of came, but was expertly wasted) there was no way he was going to raise the club’s stock any higher. A 12th place finish, still arguably higher than the club’s ‘natural’ place, would have been considered a failure.

The only way was down.

As it was, Dowie proved that quite exquisitely by starting the season in a manner that ended for him with an early sacking, and for the club with relegation (hat-tip: Les Reed). Dowie has since, perhaps in panic, taken on a temporary role with Hull City (again, riding high the season before) and saw them relegated too. Similar cameos have occurred at Newcastle and Coventry.

His stock is now so low he can’t even find a way into the studio on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday, instead being relegated to attending one of the more high-profile League One fixtures of the day.

Clue: this is not where managers want to end up.

Dowie’s mistake, then, was buying high. It was a forgivable one, given the circumstances (offers from the Premier League are rare; his stock was slowly slipping at Palace) but one that ultimately crushed his career nonetheless. He demonstrated quite ably that the worst thing you can do is buy high.

Logically, then, the best thing you can do is buy low.

This is where the renaissance of Roy Hodgson comes in. Enduring a less than impressive reputation in England for an abject spell at post-title winning Blackburn back in the 1990s (an example of buying far too high), an offer from Fulham in 2007 gave him a chance to rectify the mistake.

Wily old man: Hodgson played the game like a true master to land at Liverpool

Fulham had long been an average Premier League side, but were suffering in a horrendous position in the relegation zone thanks to a disappointing spell from Lawrie Sanchez (who has not worked in such a capacity since). Hodgson was asked to keep the side up — a task that looked virtually impossible to most observers. It was, then, a shot to nothing — even in the worst case scenario he would not be blamed. He bought Fulham stock at its lowest.

The rest is recent history. Fulham stayed up in unbelievable circumstances, before Hodgson returned the club to its former position and a bit more — a magical Europa League final run that was only ended by Diego Forlan and his slightly disconcerting topless celebrations.

This summer, showing his experience, Hodgson then completed the double whammy of selling high and buying low. Linked with the England job thanks to his Fulham work despite not winning anything of note outside of Scandinavia, Hodgson was offered the job at Liverpool off the back of one of the club’s worst seasons in living memory.

The stock was as low as it could be (although that was hardly a concern for him, as he clearly desperately wanted a top job whichever way it came). As Hodgson has since gone a long way to proving, even a bad manager could replicate last year’s seventh placed Premier League result.

Being at a recognised ‘big’ club, however, represents different challenges. For one, past season results don’t always affect the continued expectations for success. Hodgson’s poor start is evidence of this, and in many ways the boardroom struggle (another thing you should avoid when buying stock) perhaps saved his contract from an early termination. Hodgson now looks likely to get more time and, whether he is a success or not, will definitely be offered his fair share of Premier League jobs before he decides to hang up his waterproof coat.

Buy low, sell high. Managers really should do their due diligence before leaving or accepting posts — the examples are everywhere that it could be hugely beneficial in the long run.

Other examples to heed

Buying too high

Rafa Benitez (Inter): The topical choice. Understandable to accept one of Europe’s biggest jobs, but many factors suggested his tenure was never going to improve his reputation. Not only did he follow Jose Mourinho, but he is took over a treble-winning side and one that has got used to winning the league in an era where the fallout (and uneven playing field) from Calciopoli is finally beginning to dissipate. Even now, 2010 has the look of peak year for the Nerazzurri. The spell has damaged his reputation hugely.

Sammy Lee (Bolton): Okay, so perhaps he should never have been offered the job, and perhaps that fact alone was why he had to take it. But it was an obvious error. Sam Allardyce had taken the club as far as they could before his departure, and the only way was down without a comprehensive overhaul of the squad (which Owen Coyle is only now attempting to do). Lee was laughed out of the club within months, and has never had the sniff of another job again.

Paul Ince (Blackburn): Understandable why he took the job, but again the result was always highly likely. Broke some barriers as a black manager in the Premier League, but he jumped from a great job at Milton Keynes to a club that had been taken as far as it could by a wily Mark Hughes. The only way was down, and Ince couldn’t delay the slide any time and now is back in the lower leagues (Allardyce, his heir, was profiting from said slump until he fell victim of the more well-known ‘Idiotic New Owners Theory’). A lesser jump, to a club with potential still unrealised, would have likely been a better long-term move for his career.

Buying low

Jose Mourinho (Chelsea/Inter/Real Madrid): Arguably the modern master. Won the Champions League with Porto — a one-off feat — and grabbed the best job going at the time, Chelsea (where money was plentiful and success — while practically guaranteed — had not yet been achieved). He won titles there, and after a sudden departure was offered another great opportunity at Inter (winning domestic titles with ease already, yet to make a mark in the Champions League). He continued to win titles there, and catapulted his reputation with that final European success. That brought Real Madrid calling, another low stock option (on a losing cycle in the league, abject in Europe). It remains to be seen if Mourinho can revive fortunes (few would bet against him) but he has played the market brilliantly to jump around Europe’s biggest clubs. Old Trafford next?

Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea): A team that had proven it could win titles coming off the back of a disappointing season where one manager (Scolari) had blown things and another (Hiddink) had temporarily shown the obvious ability that still existed (nearly beating Barca in the CL semi-finals, winning the FA Cup). Ancelotti was always going to have a great chance to win a league or two at the club — if he can win a Champions League before his eventual fallout with Roman Abramovich he will be on the list for every big club job that comes up ever again.

Sir Alex Ferguson: The obvious one — and a perfect illustration for the fact that, when buying low, a by-product is often that you guarantee yourself far more time to make changes to the existing squad/club structure. And the importance of stability to a club’s success cannot be ignored. Ferguson rejected a number of ‘seasonal’ jobs from other teams (Wolves, Arsenal) to finally make the move down from Scotland, to a club of former glories that was at the time down in the dumps. Nearly 25 years later, he’s at the very top of the game. That’s a lesson.

What does Harry think of the Dowie Theory?: It's genius, just like him

Based on the above lessons: Attempts at advice for current managers

Ian Holloway  (Blackpool): Your stock could not be higher at your current club, and you should see out this season and a bit more, regardless of the outcome. But Blackpool will do very well to counter all the forces that should dictate a relegation sooner or later, so you should be prepared to jump ship to advance your career. An offer from a Premier League club capable of easy Premier League survival but currently in some trouble should be your aim, not anything higher.

Mark Hughes (Fulham): To the letter of the above laws, you’ve left yourself in a bit of a pickle. You can not hope to match Hodgson’s achievements, but at least the club’s fans are wily enough to realise the Europa League run was a one-off and last year’s resulting 12th place finish (lower than it could/should have been due to the European distraction) is relatively attainable. A few years hitting mid-table and then a move to a club with more scope for higher finishes (Newcastle, for example) should be the aim if you ever want to get back to the sort of job you had at Manchester City.

David Moyes (Everton): The contract indecision of a few seasons ago shows Moyes is acutely aware that the club has been at the limits of its potential for the past few seasons. A slow decline could be costly to his chances of ever making the next step up in his career. Holding the fort for a few more seasons, and then taking any move that offers greater budgets and potential, needs to be taken.

Owen Coyle (Bolton): Leaving for the Reebok from Burnley was a masterstroke, but will have been for nothing if it scares you away from a similar un-sentimental move in the near future. Bolton might be current darlings, but their financial situation suggests they will never get much higher than you have them right now (if even that can be maintained). If a bigger club come calling within the next 18 months, and surely they will — it must be taken. Provided their stock is a bit low, of course.

Follow on Twitter: @alexdimond

December 22, 2010 - Posted by | Sport, World Football

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