You exit your liquid black Lexus, walk into a modern looking foyer and nod a greeting to the receptionist. Taking a corridor to your left, you stroll down a soft, plump carpet, and glance at the walls decorated with pictures of past triumphs. The third door on your right is slightly ajar, and the welcome smell of coffee entices you to enter. Your nose doesn’t deceive you, even on a Monday morning, and you see your mug sitting on your desk. Walking around the desk, you proceed to sit on a high-back chair. Lying next to your morning drink is a sheet; the sheet confirms your excellence as a manager. You’ve guided your club to a respectable 10th in the Premier League. Job done.
How does the story end? The answer to such a question lies in the history of clubs like Bolton, Blackburn, West Ham, Fulham, Newcastle and so forth: disappointment. The aforementioned clubs have all, at one stage, accepted their place in the Premier League hierarchy: mid-table. Consequently, their main objective is to maintain their position, to avoid relegation and to, if the luck of the draw comes their way, embark upon on a short-lived cup-run, culminating in defeat against ‘the big boys’.
The ramifications of such targets are mediocre signings, and a fatal lack of ambition. This absence of a drive for improvement has resulted in relegation for all of the aforesaid clubs; their contentment led them to complacency, a perverse sense of arrogance, deceiving them into believing that no trouble could come their way. Indeed, teams who were annually engaged in a tormenting battle for survival sought for betterment, so that they may avoid the tiresome, emotionally-draining fight for Premier League status; coupled with this are the teams who have escaped life in the Championship and seek permanence in Europe’s top league. Recently, teams such as Stoke, a resurgent Leicester and the ever-impressive Swansea fall into either one of the two categories that mean disaster for clubs content with a mid-table finish.
Stoke City and Swansea City are both perfect examples of how a club should always strive for improvement. Stoke have signed renowned names, adding extra quality necessary to breach the European places. Whilst Swansea’s board recognised the destination that Michael Laudrup was directing them to: mid-table contentment. Indeed, they acted quickly and put their faith in Gary Monk, full of ambition and an admirable determination to improve both himself as a manager, and Swansea. Needless to say, the decision to elevate Monk’s position to manager has proven fruitful as the Swans are continuously improving and impressing under the former Swansea player.
Breaking into the Premier League’s elite is a financial mountain; the extortionate amount of money spent on players cannot be matched by teams residing at mid-table. Thus, one can see why a club would be content on retaining their Premier League status, rather than becoming bankrupt in the process of penetrating such an impregnable fortress. However, one can still aim for improvement; the Europa League offers rich terrain for income, and exciting European football. Even if one is seeking to finish mid-table once more, then one has to improve and stay one-step ahead of the teams below, simply to maintain their position.
Next season, the owner of the liquid black Lexus, and manager of the contented team, will face the deteriorating effects of stress, anger and ruefulness as rival teams surpass his. Curse, he will, at his policy of signing players who are at the same level of his current squad, at his stubbornness of keeping the same tactics, at his disdain for watching clips of previous games in the hope of eradicating errors. His team will fall into the relegation places and things will turn bitter. Come the end of the season, he is unemployed, with the occasional appearance on a football-talk show to generate some income and prove that he is still ‘competent’. Oh, and his previous team are preparing for life in the 2nd tier: slashing wage bills, balancing the books, offloading players, all under the policy of fiscal prudence that adds the final, deflating blow to a relegated team, and their fans. Thus concludes the story of the fatality and dangers of mid-table contentment.