Belfast Telegraph

It's tough at the top

By Graham Luney

With Linfield taking on Crusaders at Windsor Park, the race for the Gibson Cup could take another twist tonight.

Whatever happens, rival bosses David Jeffrey and Stephen Baxter will be looking anxiously on from the sidelines.

It's not easy being a football manager – you are relying on your players to do the business and they will inevitably let you down at some stage.

Bosses like Jeffrey must repeatedly rebuild teams and go again.

While financial power may differ dramatically between clubs, all managers will have to deal with pressure and criticism.

I was thinking about this reality when I looked at the Danske Bank Premiership table – particularly the teams at the top – and I thought about the unique pressures carried around by each manager.

Of course it's uncomfortable at the wrong end of the table too and Coleraine boss Oran Kearney has needed to fight his way out of a dark place.

But there's a mad scramble for the title and European qualification in the top half – and don't the managers know it.

Let's start at the top with Linfield boss David Jeffrey.

Jeffrey is under huge pressure to win the league this season after the Blues won nothing in the 2012-13 campaign.

A shocking start had the doubters in full voice, but although Linfield have rediscovered their mojo, the manager won't breathe easily again until the mission is complete.

If the Blues fail to win the league this season will Jeffrey be sacked?

Only the club's management committee can answer that one, but Jeffrey will not want that question to be hanging in the air come May.

So the pressure is on Jeffrey big time and he knows it.

Then we have Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin.

You don't get much of a honeymoon period in football and the Reds have not been allowed to bask in the glory of their first title win in 15 years.

This season the big question is are Cliftonville one hit wonders?

The players will admit that, despite all their pretty football, they don't deserve the mantle of greatness unless they can claim successive championships.

So the pressure is on to prove they are right up there with the great sides in Irish League history.

There is also pressure to exorcise their Irish Cup ghost. Losing to Glentoran in last season's final means they still haven't won the trophy since 1979.

The north-Belfast side had to wait 70 years for that last triumph.... not again!

Next up is Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter.

Baxter has got his hands on every other piece of silverware – including the Setanta Cup – but until he lifts the Gibson Cup a dream will remain unfulfilled.

Now the pressure is on him and his men to prove that they can go the distance and finally be the bride, not the bridesmaid anymore.

A rocky Christmas period saw the Hatchetmen lose ground in the race and the question is still being asked – are they strong enough to become champions for the first time since 1997?

After him comes Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson.

There is always pressure in a Big Two hotseat even though Glens fans are fully aware of reduced budgets at The Oval.

The pressure is on to qualify for Europe and the welcome financial windfall it will bring the club.

Even though the Glens, like other clubs, have had to balance their books carefully, the club's proud history of winning silverware means the fans carry around those heady hopes and expectations.

Finally we have Portadown chief Ronnie McFall.

Big Ronnie may be the longest serving manager in Europe, but some Ports fans would be happy to see the wind of change hit the Shamrock Park dugout.

After their Irish Cup dream bit the dust on Saturday, McFall is now under huge pressure to guide the Ports into Europe – a failure to do so could herald the end of his 27-year reign.

So the pressure, in different ways, is on.

There are a lot more critics around on the Internet, but how many of us know how difficult the job is?

Chairmen shouldn't make decisions to please fans, but even they must feel the pressure to take drastic action when fans' anger deepens.

It's also surprising how many players want to go into management after witnessing bosses suffer the negative impact of pressure.

Then again, fortune will favour the brave.

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