Di Matteo discharge devoid of logic

by Samuel Luckhurst

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.

5 Responses

  1. Thomas Levin says:

    I have actually spoken about WBA today as well in my first post for my new website.

    It just seems madness, they have the fire power to stay up, they are taking points against the clubs around them and two of those clubs they have at home, the picture could be very different 4 games down the line when they could easily be a mid-table position the way the league has gone this season.

    Di Matteo in his whole WBA career has a 48% win ratio, better then Hodgsons stints at Fulham and Liverpool and better then those he has replaced. They play attactive football and he has only spent £4m without complaining about lack of investment into a squad that has some talent players. Odemwinige looks a fantastic buy and now fit again could propell them on wards and upwards.

    Mowbary has a lot to take credit for in the current WBA side, he started the rebuild and in great style Di Matteo carried it on. Both with a philosophy of attacking attractive football.

    If Hodgson or Big Sam is to go in there now it will take a whole new rebuilding themselves as they try and instil a whole different style of football. Do WBA really want to sacrafice good football for a chance to stay in the Premier League, is that not selling your soul to the devil?

    Long term strategies should be put in placed into these teams, regular apprisals based on realistic objectives and measurements needs to be done and knee jerk decisions based on form need to be dismissed. Until then we will probably continue to see West Brom Yo-Yo up and down.

    Even if WBA did go down this season, stay with Roberto and with a side of young players continue to grow and come back up more experience and stronger.

  2. Wossington says:

    What a load of uninformed tosh.

    The fact is Roberto had lost the drressing room, players were unsure of his coaching and whether he really had the personality or drive to turn it around.

    Sticking with a coach that has lost 13 out of 18 games and showed no signs of turning it around would not be tolerated by anyone.

    I don’t discount that he wasn’t given support by the club’s hierarchy but there is much more to the eye than just seeing his dismissal in black and white. Just cos you are a nice man does not make you a good coach

  3. Luke Mason says:

    In response to Thomas Levin, of course Di Matteo had a higher win percentage than Hodgson. Over 2/3rds of the games he has been in charge of were in the Championship where West Brom were winning regularly.

    It must also be noted that West Brom have not been taking points off the teams around them. This has been a perpetual problem throughout each of their spells in the Premier League and is particularly concerning this year given the fact that the league is so tight.

    I must agree however that long-term thinking seems to be. This can be said though, without suggesting Albion, and indeed Jeremy Peace, are part of a “worrying trend etc”. Albion have had just 4 managers in 11 years; Peace is not one to sack regularly and has always given managers time. This is especially evident considering that, but for Celtic’s approach, Tony Mowbray would have continued as manager despite making no real progress.

    Jeremy Peace clearly thinks this is Albion’s best chance to stay up for a long time (the “Great Escape” season really was an exceptional occurance). It must be this, and his belief that if the team plays well they will get results (as evidenced by the performances earlier on in the season) that has led to Di Matteo’s sacking.

    I agree again with Thomas Levin when he questions whether this is the correct approach. It seemed to me that Di Matteo was building a decent side and developing as a coach. He was unafraid to make big decisions. I was convinced that he would be allowed to stay and develop further, even if West Brom got relegated this season.

    Just as a final point, Samuel Lockhurst’s point about foreign manager “witch-hunts” is completely exaggerated, and clearly based upon recent allegations of xenophobia by Houllier. Unfortunately, contributing to this idea will only perpetuate it. They are not, with the exception of Capello and Sven because they are/were England manager, treated any differently to English managers.

    1. Thomas Levin says:

      Yeah comparing directly to Roy is some what misleading (I also have a Liverpool bias too) and I think moving away from Mowbary was the right decision at the time, he had stalled in his progress with the side and it was his time to go.

      I think Roy will be good enough to keep WBA up in the Premier League at least for this season. But then again I think Di Matteo could have been capable of that too. But he will want to instil his own style of football and that will take a few games to get into as it was doing with Liverpool and Fulham before that. Have WBA got that time now?

      I just hope that Roy can improve his own away performances because this is something that is a big problem for WBA.

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