The Impossible Job of the Football Chairman

Image courtesy of the Daily Mirror

Written by Mark Docherty

Image courtesy of the Daily Mirror

So much of a club’s success can be down to the financial backing given to the manager, while a lack of investment can be equally responsible for a poor season. However, unlike most of the key positions in football clubs, the supporters seldom flock to praise their chairman on the back of successes. While players and managers are revered and hated in equal measure depending on how their club is performing, chairmen seem to be criticised for defeats without ever being praised when things go their way. Maybe, just maybe, chairmen don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Perhaps this is because it is easy to point the finger at the chairman of a club when things go wrong due to the vast sums of money being bandied about in professional football. When supporters see their rivals spending tens of millions of pounds on new players, if they perceive that their club is failing to keep up financially they begin to question how committed their chairman really is. This can be very unfair considering the amount of money which is required to maintain a football club, as chairmen can be vilified despite having pumped billions of pounds of their own money into the club simply because they miss out on a key signing. A perfect example of this is the owners of Arsenal as, although they might not spend as lavishly as their counterparts at Manchester City and Chelsea, they have still opened the chequebook for the likes of Granit Xhaka (£35 million), Shkodran Mustafi (£35 million) and Alexandre Lacazette (£52.7 million) in the last couple of seasons. However, after missing out on a couple of players in the summer such as Kylian Mbappé, the fanbase has once again turned on the owners for their reluctance to make big money signings.

Chairmen can also receive unjust criticism for signings failing to make an impact at their new club. The majority of chairmen are not experts on football and, more importantly, they do not claim to be. While there is the odd exception where a chairman will encourage signings to be made from a particular nationality or category of player, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers’ owner who encourages signings from Jorge Mendes’ clients, most chairmen leave it to the manager and head of recruitment which players they sign. At most clubs the role of the chairman is to make funds available so the manager can aim to sign his preferred targets, yet they still seem to get blamed if those players fail to live up to expectations. Over the 2015/15 season Mike Ashley’s Newcastle spent £93 million on new players, yet when they got relegated much of the blame was pinned on the owner for supposedly refusing to give the manager enough financial support.

The most vital job of the modern chairman is appointing and sacking managers. It is rare that a chairman is praised for making a particular appointment, while deciding whether or not to sack a manager earns owners endless abuse. Such is the turnaround of managers at the top level of football that there are always stories in newspapers about which managers are leading the ‘sack race’, and owners simply cannot win. When Crystal Palace sacked Frank de Boer after five games in charge their owners were criticised for being too trigger-happy, whereas the West Ham owners are currently under scrutiny for not sacking Slaven Bilić after a run of poor results. Supporters are quick to bemoan how little time managers are given in modern football, but equally quick to call for the manager’s head when their wn team in underperforming. Either way, the owners end up getting abuse from one side or the other.

It is well documented that there are some owners who are parasitical to their clubs and poor ownership can lead to clubs spiralling down divisions. However, football fans need to be careful about tarring all chairmen with the same brush as many are a credit to football. It can be too easy to blame the chairman for things that are out of his control, supporters should be carful to give them only the credit or criticism they deserve.