In football, schadenfreude isn’t always born from rivalry. Sometimes it is born from befuddling decisions.
Sometimes – at least from a neutral’s perspective – a club’s actions lead you to revel in their downfall.
That was my feeling after Brian McDermott’s departure from Reading this week. That was the
moment I decided I wanted them to be relegated. And it wasn’t just them. I would be quite happy to see Southampton go down, too.
And while we’re at it – I would smile at the sight of Wolves toppling into League One.
The sacking of one man has prompted an article about three; because in many ways McDermott’s fate echoes those of Nigel Adkins in January and Mick McCarthy last season.
In all three cases, their clubs were in or around the relegation zone. But there are far worse places to be, and sometimes owners and chairmen would do well to remember that.
Only last month, I wrote an article about the man quietly working miracles, small miracles, footballing miracles, but miracles regardless. That man was McDermott, who had turned the Royals first into giant-killers and ultimately into giants, leading them into a Premier League perhaps a step too far – for now – but a step he deserved to repeat if necessary.
A glimpse at their remaining fixtures suggests they may have survived, with a hazardous end to March followed by a far easier April. But instead the club decided that someone yet to be named, and possibly yet to be decided on, could do what McDermott seemingly couldn’t and keep them in the top flight.
Having taken Reading to the play-off final one year and the Premier League the next, McDermott deserved patience. Instead he is out of a job and Reading have lost the admittedly sporadic and ineffectual support of at least one neutral.
The fact the club say they are no nearer to appointing a successor makes the situation even more absurd. Will the team do any better at Old Trafford tomorrow without the man who inspired them to score three in the reverse fixture back in December?
What does absence inspire, apart from longing? Replacing a man prompts change. Failing to replace him just highlights the hole he left behind.
At least Southampton replaced Adkins almost instantly. But with the club three points clear of the relegation zone at the time, and having just come back from 2-0 down to draw with Chelsea, his departure was no less confusing.
When new boss Maurico Pochettino started giving his post-match interviews through an interpreter, you wondered if the club had really thought this through.
And in the seven games since Adkins’ sacking, the six points accrued doesn’t look worthy of all the headlines and compensation packages that preceded them.
When I say I would revel in their relegations, it is not the fans’ turmoil I will enjoy; quite the opposite in fact. I feel for them more now than ever, because they lost men who were building something.
In McDermott a man who preached football the right way, whose team was, on their day, a match for some of the biggest in the country years before they joined them.
And in Adkins, a man who won consecutive promotions, who took the Saints from League One to the top table in just two moves. And if they were to slip a little before consolidating, so be it.
Yet owners are a forgetful lot, and memories of yesterday grow foggy in the face of all those pound signs.
But yesterday can still be so much better than tomorrow. Just ask Wolves, who parted company with Mick McCarthy, replaced him with a man who cost significantly less but won significantly less as well – not a single match to be precise; replaced him with a man who never got to grips with the job and have now handed Dean Saunders the poisoned chalice.
When McCarthy left Molineux, Wolves were in the Premier League relegation zone only on goal difference. Thirteen months later, they are 23rd in the Championship.
It is easy to say Wolves would be better off today if they hadn’t lost McCarthy. And impossible to say for sure what Adkins and McDermott would have achieved had they stayed.
All I know for certain is that all three men were good for their clubs; they had grown together; they had both history and potential. The history remains. But we can only imagine what would have come next.
How do you feel about the decisions of the three clubs discussed?
image: © crystian cruz