It has become a trade in its own right. There are certain coaches out there who have carved entire careers for themselves from being caretaker – or interim – managers. Take Eric Black, for example. Before the press caught him drinking a £99 bottle of Laurent Perrier rose champagne, among other things, you probably knew him as as the guy who at one point or another has taken caretaker charge of pretty much every Premier League club in the land.
In Spain, Voro is La Liga’s go-to-interim manager, or rather Valencia’s go-to-interim manager having taken charge of the country’s most unstable club no fewer than four times over the past eight years. The England national team even had an interim manager, with Gareth Southgate holding the position until The FA had vetted every possible candidate before handing it to him.
Of course, interim managers aren’t a symptom of modern football, but with more and more coaches losing their jobs as the Premier League’s managerial merry-go-round spins out of control season after season we are seeing more of them. We should probably start learning some of their stats.
The interim manager is the tell-tale sign of a club without a plan. Swansea City had a plan when they sacked Francesco Guidolin, hiring American Bob Bradley as his replacement before the Italian could even find a translator to read his P45, and when Bradley himself was sacked, Paul Clement became that plan. Hull City, on the other hand, had no plan for Steve Bruce’s exit and saw Mike Phelan slide into the role as the club’s de facto manager. He unpacked his belongings in the manager’s office at the KCOM Stadium, so they just gave him the job. No plan B snd now no Phelan, but his replacement was planned and has since seen the Tigers spark a mini revival.
As caretackers go, Jackie McNamara was the strangest appointment when he was installed as York City’s caretaker manager… after resigning as the club’s permanent manager. “In order to assist the managerial transition period and to accommodate a thorough identification, interview and appointment process, the chairman had asked Jackie McNamara to train and prepare the team until a suitable candidate had been determined,” prompting double takes on sports desks all over the country.
Roberto Di Matteo must surely go down as the greatest caretaker manager of all, with the Italian leading Chelsea to Champions League glory following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the season. In fact, Chelsea are the club of the caretaker manager. Before Di Matteo they had Guus Hiddink in 2009 and again in 2016. Di Matteo himself was replaced by another caretaker boss in Rafael Benitez.
The cult of the caretaker manager is a compelling one, with background figures only known by hardcore supporters of the club and thrust into the public eye, like a Broadway understudy being pushed reluctantly into the spotlight. Some take on legendary status of their own, like Sandy Stewart, the caretaker manager who won the Scottish Challenge Cup in his one and only match in charge of St Johnstone. By a similar token, Di Matteo will forever be remembered as the man who somehow led Chelsea to their greatest ever triumph.
But while it’s difficult to begrudge the caretaker managers themselves for getting their chance in the spotlight the proliferation of the uniquely tragic job title is an indictment on the modern game. It is the hallmark of a volatile sport, of a club without a direction. The same goes for the England national team. While The FA will claim they had no choice but to sack Sam Allardyce they have since shown a lack of guidance, handing Southgate the job until the end of the year. By which time they can decide to either take the easy route and hand Southgate the position permanently or give it to someone else.
No replacement – No plan
It never really works out anyway. Caretakers are, unfortunately for them, always tagged as caretakers. It can be a life sentence, but at least they’ll always be a part of the cult.