So it’s settled then, Chris Wilder is
going staying. Not the scenario that anyone foresaw. But the statement about Wilder and the club’s future says a lot about the club going forward.
Well, I don’t think anyone expected that, as someone said on Twitter, you don’t call press conferences to say that managers are staying.
It says quite something that they did; one thing they teach you at journalism school is that something isn’t news if opposite is a surprise. So, the news that a man stays in his job shouldn’t be news because the opposite (that he’s been fired) is the surprise.
I don’t think anyone expected to hear Wilder was staying. If nothing else, the economic argument; that him staying would impact season ticket sales, seemed to be enough to see him go. I’ve been challenged on this. Say we have 3000 season ticket holders (I don’t know if that’s right, but just say) how many would renew out of habit? I would, and pretty much everyone that sits around me would. I reckon as many as 80% would renew regardless of who was the manager. That leaves, perhaps, £70,000 which could be lost to ‘floating’ season ticket holders. Firing Wilder and recruiting a replacement could be a costly business – research suggests as much as 150% of that person’s salary. So the simple equation is one of lost revenue versus recruitment costs. Perhaps the financial argument isn’t so strong.
Which brings us onto football. The statement on the club website admits the ‘upward curve’ has ‘flattened out’. Sure enough, we’re 10 points behind where we were last season. Some of which might reasonably be explained by injuries and the appalling state of our pitch. Our poor home form does appear to be at the core of this season’s problem and it does appear that the one of the key factors behind the poor state of the pitch – London Welsh – may soon disappear.
Another factor to consider is that in the past people have compared our comparative lack of success to those who have also recently ascended from the Conference. Many have enjoyed continued success after their promotion, but we haven’t rampaged in the same way. But of the 12 teams promoted from the Conference since 2006, five go into Saturday’s final round of fixtures facing the prospect of being relegated back to the Conference. And we’re not one of them. It’s not a definitive argument supporting Wilder, but if we’re benchmarking our success against our peers, then we could be in a significantly worse position.
The reason why this is important is that it highlights that those focussed on long term steady growth tend to prosper more than those who enjoy fluctuations in success. In the end, what goes up, usually comes down and you can argue that we’ve now left our former Conference brethren for the establishment of the football league. There is strong evidence that steadier clubs are beginning to see dividends in the current economic climate. Why is German football coming to the fore? Because the Spanish and English leagues are one a downward slope after a period of booming success. The German’s have just continued to be German.
This is tortoise and hare stuff; in the economy is penalising the hares who have boomed in boom times and dived in the dip, the tortoises are coming through to steal the prizes.
What is interesting about the statement is that Lenagan appears to have generally reduced Wilder’s influence within the club. There’s some dispute as to whether he was on a rolling contract or still had 12 months to go (I’m fairly sure that BBC Radio Oxford said he was still under contract beyond the end of the season). The statement says he’s been ‘re-appointed’ on a contract which the club were at pains to say is fixed term with options in favour of the club. Everything about it suggests that the new deal puts control much more into the hands of Lenagan and the board.
The statement develops this further; emphasising the focus on sports science within the club and developing talent. Everything points to a steadier, long term development of the club, more corporate, more cohesive, more German, if you like. This is not a bad thing for Chris Wilder. It takes the emphasis away from the English obsession with the cult of the manager as being the only thing that influences results. It steps away from the nihilistic strategies of signing ‘big names’ on big wages in the hope of gaining short term success.
The criticism I have of Lenagan is that he’s allowed this to go on too long. If Chris Wilder knew he was staying; he been showing no evidence at all to suggest that this was the case. His body language smacked of someone whose days were numbered. In short, he’s been treated abysmally.
But, I like the vision, Lenagan the chairman frustrates me with his poor PR skills. His statements are good, but they’re slow, poorly timed and patchy leaving chasms of silence into which speculation grows. As an owner, I like him. It appeals to me that we might see success in 2-3 years at Oxford United with 6-7 players playing regularly for the first team developed from the youth scheme. Most fans love this as a concept, there’s nothing they like supporting a team of local players. Sadly, few clubs are brave enough to see the strategy through. Could we actually be the one to do it?