Why Thaksin Dumped Sven: Incompetent Egoism or Aggressive Impatience?

The general reaction this past week to the emerging news that Sven Goran Eriksson will be departing Manchester City at the close of the season was one of stunned bewilderment, perhaps best captured in the tone of Noel Gallagher’s voice in his radio interview with the BBC.

Two schools of thought are emerging among City supporters in trying to make sense of how a manager who has led City to its most successful ever campaign in the Premier League era and who is exceptionally popular at the club and in the community could be getting the boot.

The predominant view is that Thaksin has acted rashly and shown a total lack of appreciation for Eriksson’s accomplishments with this team and the way he has built a squad with great potential for the future. It is pointed out that Thaksin has scarcely been in Manchester in 2008 and hence has scarcely been in a position to judge Sven on the basis of detailed first-hand knowledge, and that the unanimous view of professionals at the club is that Sven’s job security should never have been a matter of doubt. Sacking Sven undoes a year’s worth of progress, and potentially will lead to several prominent players leaving and those that remain having a sick feeling about the club and its ownership. (More on that theme in a future post, focusing on the case of Richard Dunne.)

Part of the picture too is Thaksin’s outsized ego, demonstrated in match day programmes, staged photo shoots, “thanks from Thaksin” bargain ticket games, and so forth. Thaksin, it appears, wants to be the name most prominently associated with City, not a mere manager. And perhaps even more important, Thaksin is not, if reports from last week are accurate, interested in the traditional arrangement in which the club’s manager makes decisions about personnel and picks the team. That’s the arrangement Sven assumed he was working under, yet Thaksin’s team were attempting to negotiate transfers without his knowledge. In short, Thaksin is not interested in sharing power with any manager or having the manager have more clout with fans and within the club than the owners.

Some, however, see a further logic in Thaksin’s move to sack Sven. It is argued that Thaksin is an aggressive businessman who lost faith in Sven as the man to fulfill his ambitious agenda to put City rapidly at the top of English and then world football, and made a hard-headed decision to push Sven along, just as he’s made hard-headed decision to push the old board to the side. That’s tough medicine, but all in service of a greater good, namely Thaksin’s vision of Manchester City as a global force.

Now this interpretation of recent events is questionable on its own terms, precisely because anyone who takes a realistic look at the Premier League and its competitiveness, and how many other strong clubs outside the top four harbor serious ambitions of breaking through that barrier (Everton, Villa, Spurs, and Newcastle, for starters), will recognize that for a club like Manchester City, progress up the ranks is hard-earned and should be cherished when it’s achieved. That is to say, hiring Big Phil or whoever, even if there are significant new player arrivals, does not at all guarantee that City will move forward next year; given the turmoil Sven’s sacking has caused, movement the opposite direction may be more likely. One could have Thaksin’s goals and nonetheless rationally conclude that the thing to do is to ride Sven as far as he could take the club before moving on to someone else.

I think that judgment would be correct, but there’s a deeper issue. Just what is Thaksin’s vision for the club, and is it something Manchester City fans could or should feel comfortable with? Is it okay to have a scarcely around owner who simply disregards the opinions and judgments of nearly the entire fan base and all the playing and non-playing staff of the club?

That’s a question to be explored further in the next post, with special focus on the case of Richard Dunne.

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