Garden leave (or gardening leave) describes the practice whereby an employee who is leaving a job (having resigned or otherwise been terminated) is instructed to stay away from work during their notice period, while still remaining on the payroll.
If one wishes to be facetious, it’s an unappealing time for Roberto Di Matteo, suddenly with oodles to tend to his hedges and lawn when wind speeds are bellowing harshly. Just as harshly, he has been removed from the task of steering West Bromwich Albion clear from the relegation vortex.
The announcement of his departure and placement on garden leave at Sunday lunchtime generates suspicion thanks to those two words, although invariably innocuous, in the murky world of football just as invariably suggest that something’s afoot.
The game’s not so much afoot as dead now for Di Matteo, whose departure was due to a ‘unanimous decision of the Football Club’s Board of Directors in light of a worrying sequence of results which has seen the Club lose 13 of their last 18 games in all competitions, winning only three’, says the Club’s statement.
Management, we are informed, is a results business, and West Brom’s statement explicitly signalling a torrid run of results in the second paragraph cunningly gains supporters on side who may have initially questioned the Club’s decision.
Optimists expecting an explanation in regards to the gardening leave factor will probably be demanding answers whenever West Brom win the league. Richard Bevan, the League Managers Association CEO has stated that Di Matteo is the victim of ‘the ‘‘hire and fire’’ mentality’, pertinently questioning his discharge after a difficult away game to Manchester City when key matches against West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Stoke City and Birmingham City are on the immediate horizon.
But should results be the be-all-and-end-all of a manager’s occupation? Winning or losing was life and death to Bill Shankly, but building a side and stabilising steady progress with budding personnel, in the long-term, is arguably a greater priority.
Albion is flirting with relegation, but most expected them to be relegated. They adopt the surreal guise of being a step above the yo-yo football club; too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League. The Inbetweeners.
Unlike the naive Tony Mowbray, Di Matteo excelled at establishing a balance which saw the Baggies exhibit their attacking ethos as well as reining in a gung-ho approach which was their inevitable undoing two seasons ago.
Albion were media darlings after they vanquished Arsenal 3-2 at the Emirates earlier in the season before showing resilience to gain a draw at Old Trafford having been 2-0 down at half time as well as pummelling Everton 4-1 at Goodison Park a month later. Skilful players such as Chris Brunt and James Morrison have learnt from the relegation misery of 2009 and Di Matteo has complemented their top-tier experience with the selfless striker Peter Odemwingie, promising Glaswegian Graham Dorrans, and a revitalised Jerome Thomas amongst continental experience to prevent the dreaded yo-yo tag.
So why sack the manager if the players are complacent whereby they don’t raise their game against smaller sides? And the hottest burning question is why sack Di Matteo halfway through the season when the Club under Mowbray two seasons ago was worse off yet allowed him to last the full term? They were bottom on 22 points after 25 games compared to 26 points and seventeenth from the same amount of fixtures this campaign.
Carlos Vela, who possesses the aesthetic qualities Di Matteo admires, has recently been signed on loan only to be thrust into the chaotic climate of the boardroom destabilising a football club. The supporters have standards for good football which Mowbray and the recently departed Di Matteo advocated, yet the latter’s successor will surely advocated substance over style.
Already the names Hodgson, Allardyce, O’Neill and ex-Baggie Derek McInnes have emerged. The former two in recent years prevented Fulham and Blackburn Rovers from plunging into relegation abyss, but their footballing ideals are the opposite to Di Matteo’s and crucially, Albion’s supporters.
Worth noting is that the quartet are all British. England enjoy generating witch hunts against foreign managers such as Fabio Capello, Rafael Benítez, Avram Grant and Gerard Houllier despite all of them having reached more finals individually than Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson, who are largely immune from criticism. Di Matteo was a young foreign manager making waves, only for Jeremy Peace and the knowledgeable Board of Directors to engulf him with a tsunami.