As a West Ham United supporter, I was gripped by the round of 16 League Cup encounter between the Irons and Tottenham Hotspur last Thursday morning at Wembley Stadium.
Tottenham were superb and put a lacklustre Hammers defence to the sword in the first 37 minutes, taking a two-goal lead into the break after Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli found the back of the net.
Potentially, it was the last time Slaven Bilic would occupy the West Ham dressing room at halftime as the mentor, with increasing pressure mounting after a poor start to the season for a team with more ability than their ladder position reflects. After the three-nil drubbing at the hands of Brighton the week earlier, it appeared Bilic was on his last legs.
The Hammers’ miraculous three-goal second half was astonishing and potentially job-saving – at least in the short term.
The range of emotions Bilic experienced reminded me of the intense pressure and scrutiny felt by those in positions of authority in world football and the delicate tightrope they walk.
From a poised and controlled professional as the game began, he turned to a lost and bewildered psychopath as Spurs hammered home their advantage. In the end, he became frantic and panicked, desperate to salvage both his honour and job, as 11 of his players flooded the box in the last ten minutes.
Depending on the state of affairs, the difference between a recalcitrant lunatic launching a venomous barrage at an unshielded fourth official isn’t that far removed from a passionate thinker ensuring justice is done using a measured tone.
The tipping point is so fine and examples of individuals stumbling over it are numerous.
The A-League is no different, despite the wages being considerably lower and a few current managers will be starting to edge closer and closer to the precipice.
John Aloisi looks like a man set for a Vesuvian-like eruption. After three losses, the Brisbane Roar somehow found a way to pinch a point against the Phoenix after the home side took a three-goal lead in the first half.
Aloisi’s mood appeared reflective, morose and almost forlorn after the third goal, from Andrija Kaludjerovic – as if resigned to a loss.
As his team clawed their way to a miraculous draw, with chances to grab all three points, his demeanour morphed into something resembling the frenetic and hopeful.
It was a complete turn-around from a lost and disheartened soul, to a man with a new hope and something to hang onto and work towards in the next week.
Kevin Muscat is living in a similar universe, as his Victory team bumble along without a win after four weeks. This seemed long odds at season’s start, with the majority of the squad intact. The loss of Marco Rojas’ creativity and Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s move to Brisbane left a few gaps to fill, however with Besart Berisha, James Troisi and new man Leroy George up front, there is plenty of firepower available.
Defensively solid with few additions, there is something unexplained about the ponderous start to the Victory’s season.
Losses to both City and Sydney may be excusable to some degree, considering the form of the ladder leaders, however the subsequent draws with Adelaide and the Mariners were frustrating – in fact, without a freakish strike from George on Sunday, the Central Coast may have got the victory that many felt they deserved.
Muscat will never be a shrinking violet on the sideline and with the pressure building, one must ask, when does it all come to the surface?
While nowhere near desperation in terms of their campaign, a loss to the Wanderers this week could push Muscat to a point completely foreign to both he and the club. This was not the blueprint he mapped out over the winter months and – despite some cool post-game displays, where blame has been avoided and perspective called for – he is seething inside.
I have sympathy for all three men as they face the criticism of fans, frustration from club officials, and the disappointment of failing to meet their own expectations. The last of those three has the biggest impact of all.
An unshaven face peering into a bathroom mirror with bloodshot eyes and dishevelled hair after a crushing loss is the true face of managerial duties.
The sheer weight of expectation and responsibility for all aspects of the game are far removed from the streamlined responsibilities of the individual player.
All three have lived the moments on field, the glorious and the guttered. However, as managers, their gesticulations and intensity are far behind anything we observed from them as players.
Bilic gains a stay of execution from the West Ham owners for at least another week, yet his time could be up at any moment.
Aloisi grapples with a playing group looking short on legs and off-field innuendo that helps no one, searching for one victory to right the ship.
And Muscat sits bemused at the plight of the 2016-17 runners-up, who can’t find their mojo after a full month of the season.
Perhaps all three will steer their respective ships well over the course of the coming months and enjoy rewarding seasons where their squads play quality football.
Alternatively, one of the three might be out of a job by Christmas. Muscat would be long odds to fall victim to that scenario, yet the same cannot be said for Aloisi and Bilic.
The tension, speculation and frustration is another side to the World Game that we love. Seeing people under pressure and observing the manner in which they respond to it is a good thing.
Unfortunately, football managers tend to appear as utter madmen grappling with their team’s inadequacies, administrative pressures, and fan expectations as they command the technical area.
There is nowhere to hide and the symbolic presence of a pole and a tightrope might just be apt.