Many Oxford fans are now judging Chris Wilder on his results. It’s understandable because that’s how football usually works. But if the Olympics and Sports Personality of the Year teaches us anything that it’s not the result that makes you successful, it’s the process by which you achieve the result.
Football is a results game, as any messageboard phone-in know-all will tell you. Although if you read anything about professional sport beyond poorly written ghosted celebrity football memoirs, you’ll realise that professional sport is actually a process game. The process followed creates success – maximising the possibility of success and minimising the risk of failure. Results are subject to a series of uncontrollable factors – especially the opposition – so anyone who is successful focuses on what they can control.
Each of the shortlisted candidates for Sports Personality of the Year talked of being in a bubble during their success; working hard in training, being dedicated to their sport. One at a time, they paid tribute to the dedication of the team of people beind them. They focussed on what they’ve trained to do – that minimised the risk of failure, maximised the chances of success. It is only afterwards that the impact of their success on other people hit home. That contrast, between single minded focus, and having the world looking at you, is what creates the wide-eyed shock when the victory does come.
Football, of course, was a big loser at Sports Personality of the Year; Chelsea and Manchester City turned up like a DJ at a wedding wanting to play cutting edge epic trance for people who just wanted a bit of Abba. They were quickly dealt with so that we could move onto things more interesting.
That thing was the wider impact the Olympics had on people. Bradley Wiggins acknowledged that his success is only important because of what was going on around him. It was said that of the shortlisted canddiates only Jessica Ennis’ performance would have been considered a failure if she hadn’t hit gold. There was a something about the spirit of participation, of effort which seemed, somehow, more important than the result itself. The result comes from honest endeavour and effort, the result doesn’t come from concentrating on the result.
Football is so huge it attracts a broad range of interest. Some will always unthinkinly say football is just a results business. As such, someone like knockabout multi-millionaire honest barrow boy ‘arry Redknapp, with his FA Cup win, will always be more important that cerebral Johnny Foreigner types like multi-league winning manager Arsene Wenger, for example.
Chris Wilder’s results in recent months have left him vulnerable to attack from the baying hoardes. Like Wenger, it feels like there’s only one way this is all going to end up, it’s just a question of how. Like Wenger, there should be nothing to celebrate if and when Wilder does go. If it is to be done, and the idea of firing the man who took us up, gave us Wembley and three wins over Swindon is so unpleasant then one hopes it will be done with dignity.
If you look at the table we sit 18th, but we are equally distant from the play-offs and relegation zone – mid table. There’s a concentration of competition at the top of the table. We’re unbeaten in six games and remain in two cup competitions. We’ve yet to play a game with Clarke, Duberry, Whing, Wright Leven and Constable; the core of our team last year, playing in the team. Injuries remain an issue, when one comes back, another falls by the wayside.
Some fans are now so entrenched that defeat is almost celebrated; it is proof of the hypothesis that Wilder has failed. So, when Harry Worley equalised against Morecambe on Saturday, there was a degree of disappointment. Except, if football if a results business, then picking up points is success and therefore Wilder is a success and the naysayers should back down. But they don’t.
Suddenly there is a detatchment between Wilder and his performance and the result. Some actually don’t care whether Wilder wins, draws or loses, he should leave. Which makes is a personal issue. A vast majority of people know Chris Wilder via the TV and radio, how are they judging him as a person?
Will it ever be possible for a football club to buck the trend of knee-jerk reactions and try to think more deeply about how they are run and progress. Sadly, I doubt it, it’s too big, there are too many influences and too many opportunities vent frustrations. In rare occasions, Manchester United being the exemplar, a process of building a club over a long period and not making decisions on the basis of a few months of performance, can be achieved. Swansea seem to have achieved it to a degree, Liverpool are trying to kick-start a revival by doing it. Manchester City have so much money that external influence is irrelevant. Smaller clubs, without the insulation of vast sums of money, are likely to be more susceptible to external pressures and are always more likely to lurch from success to crisis rather than focussing on long term sustained success. I guess that’s why they’re small clubs.