Premier League managers' health 'increasingly at risk'

29 December 2008 11:14
The culture of what has been described as the "disposable manager" is believed to be putting the health of football managers at risk. The League Managers Association are to expand their healthcare support programme next month, as the constant anxiety over managers' futures could lead to a number of stress-related illnesses.

The stresses involved in football management were bluntly described by Paul Jewell, who terminated his own contract with Derby County at 9.30pm on Sunday.

"To be a manager," Jewell said, "you've got to be a boss, a friend, a money lender, and a marriage guidance counsellor."

The level of insecurity inherent in the modern game is exacerbating the issue. Martin O'Neill, the Aston Villa manager, explains that football is now in the age of the "disposable manager", which is a source of great stress for those at the helm of football clubs.

"You walk into this job and you know that the inevitability of it is that you will probably get booted," O'Neill said. "At some stage or other, you will not be in control of a set of results, and they will do for you."

Carole Seheult, a clinical sports psychologist who used to work with the Aston Villa youth team, believes that such anxiety over their future can result in managers becoming physically ill. She explains: "The world of football management presents a number of unique challenges, the foremost of which is unpredictability. The inability to plan in the long term is very anxiety-provoking.

"Managers are always looking over their shoulders, unsure of whether they have the full support of the club's owners.

"There can be physical effects of this undercurrent of anxiety, including high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses, like ulcers."

Indeed, of 114 managers tested by the LMA in their "Fit to Manage" programme, an initiative set up to provide healthcare to their members, 40 per cent have dangerously high blood pressure, 50 per cent have raised blood sugar levels, and 60 per cent suffer from raised levels of cholesterol.

The LMA have been running their programme for six years, from their Wellness clinic based in Stockport, but next month the programme is expanding due to the demand, with mobile testing systems that will enable participating managers to be tested at their clubs.

But Richard Bevan, chief executive of the LMA, said that while the healthcare of football managers was essential, it was the duty of the clubs to pitch their expectations within the real world, and manage the stresses placed on their employees in the first instance.

"The clubs need to manage the expectations of the media and the fans. If you fail to do that the pressure builds and builds, and it is almost like a pressure-cooker. Sacking the manager has often been the release valve."

It is a fear that has even O'Neill, whose side sit pretty in the top four in the table, joking that he "stays slim just by worrying". "I worry for everyone around the club and spend my life worrying – that's what I do," he said, adding: "You're on the touchline and somebody misses a chance – you wouldn't want to run an ECG on your heart at that minute."

But O'Neill is not complaining: "Why come into it if you don't accept that?" he asks.

Source: Telegraph