In the modern era, the notion of changing manager is one of the first safety blankets that supporters of a team can reach for when things aren’t going well.
At the time of writing, Nuno Espirito Santo is still the Tottenham Hotspur manager but it’s unlikely to be the case at the time of publication – and even if it is, the inevitable is only being delayed. While Spurs won the first three matches of the Premier League season – all 1-0 – it was a false reading and results since have not been encouraging for the Lilywhites.
Assuming that the Portuguese is replaced soon, the new man will be Tottenham’s third permanent boss in the time since Mikel Arteta was appointed Arsenal manager in December 2019, while Ryan Mason was in interim charge in the period between Jose Mourinho being sacked and Santo’s appointment. While Arteta has had rocky moments during his time at the Emirates, the signs are that the Gunners are now being shaped in his image, following a positive trend.
Tottenham’s next manager could be transformational, but the likelihood is that, if he is a success, it will be one achieved slowly and sustainably, based on good use of the transfer market.
Barring exceptional circumstances, such an avenue isn’t available to an inter-county GAA manager but it doesn’t stop the fans from dreaming when a new figure dons the bainisteoir’s polo shirt.
Tonight, all going well, Keith Ricken will be confirmed as the new Cork senior football manager. Those who saw the St Vincent’s man guide the county’s U20 team to the All-Ireland title in 2019 – having only been appointed in late January of that year – might think that the Rebels will immediate challenge at the top table again. It would be lovely if that were the case, but the reality is that, while the picture isn’t as bleak as some pundits painted after the heavy loss to Kerry in July, it’s not going to be easy.
Of course, for most of the rest of the country, all Ricken has to do is make Cork competitive enough to lose to Kerry by four or five points, ensuring the Kingdom have a good tune-up before Croke Park. If Cork fail to live up to those expectations, they are written off; should the unexpected happen and they actually win against their neighbours – as was the case a year ago – then sure haven’t Cork ruined things by giving Dublin an easy run at it?
A bit glib and defensive, perhaps, but credit for Cork football never seems to be in plentiful supply. When Cork, under the management of Conor Counihan, were genuinely among the top three or four teams in the country in the latter part of the 2000s and early period of the 2010s, there was still a sense that, even though they won one All-Ireland, three national league Division 1 titles and three Munster championships, “they should have won more”. This is a common historical allegation against the best Cork teams, with the 1973 side failing to build on their All-Ireland success and even Billy Morgan’s great side of the late 1980s and 1990s losing three All-Ireland finals compared to two wins.
Perhaps the jaundiced view comes from the fact that, as well as having to try to overcome Kerry each year, the Cork footballers are seen as less glamorous than their hurling counterparts, even when they more successful. It has always been the way and probably always will.
Of course, there’s little doubt that Ricken and his management team of John Cleary, Barry Corkery, Ray Keane, Micheál Ó Cróinín and James Loughrey, will be aware of that while trying to ignore it.
Ricken went viral during the summer when his post-match interview following the extra-time Munster U20 final win over Kerry received plenty of positive comment. He is a proponent of the carrot but, having studied extensively on what makes people tick, he will know that some players respond better to the stick.
There are of course never any guarantees in sport – it could be that Ricken’s great strength of developing younger players doesn’t translate as well to a senior inter-county team – but he goes in with the best wishes of every Cork football supporter.