Some managers get to hit the ground running, their new charges understanding their instructions, believing in their systems, executing their wishes with vigour and efficient success. The lucky few start meeting expectations from the very moment they first direct their players to go left, then right, then left again around the training cones – whether they’re chasing a title, consolidating in mid-table or simply desperately clinging to the driftwood of 17th place, it all goes right immediately.
For other managers, those early days aren’t so smooth. Maybe he has to completely renovate a side that his predecessor thoroughly condemned. Maybe his grizzled club captain doesn’t understand his accent or weird insistence on salads and passing. Maybe his strikers are just that irredeemably stupid. In any case, when the results aren’t flowing as torrentially as required, that manager is waiting for one of two things – the sack, or the Click.
The sack is a fate all too familiar for most coaches, with twitchy chairmen ever mindful that if cutting your losses, even the most club-footed midfield chancer can be sold on for some semblance of restitution, while no one pays a transfer fee for a manager.
(Well, except Roman Abramovich, but you can only rely on him to come a-buying once or twice a year at most.)
Sometimes though, if the gaffer can keep his chairman calm for long enough, he can be saved by the satisfying sound of the Click – that wonderful moment where all those hours of grinding practise turn into effortless cohesion. Previously confused players start running instinctively onto previously aimless passes, miscommunication becomes unspoken synchronicity. The system falls into place and some unsuspecting opponent turns up expected to face a rabble, and instead gets turned over by a team.
Just ask Chris Hughton about the Click, who two months ago must have thought his Norwich City team would never hear its comforting tone. It was seven games into the league campaign, and only three points gathered for the side that Paul Lambert had somehow cruised into the top division and kept there comfortably. The Glaswegian constructed his team from a mosaic of hard-working journeymen held together by the thick mortar of will and very hard stares, and it seemed that in Lambert’s absence, those disparate tiles had become very shoogly and Championship-bound.
Then one day in October, all of sudden, everything comes together and they beat Arsenal. Convincingly too – not just 90 minutes of battened hatches and praying for miracles, but a controlled display of counter-attacking and level-headedness. At some point since their previous match – a 4-1 defeat at Chelsea so comprehensive that Fernando Torres grabbed a goal on that canary-yellow flat-track – Norwich suddenly got it, and transformed from a transitional outfit into eleven men and a cunning plan. Then they set about executing that plan with gusto – reeling off ten games without defeat, sprinting up the table and generally reminding everybody that Hughton has managed to create organisation within far more shambolic groups of players at Newcastle and Birmingham, so maybe the Click was always inevitable.
Fans love the Click, because it rewards their investments of time, money and faith in a side as they watch the men they stood by through thin become conquering heroes when the thick starts rolling in. That shared struggle makes the team somehow more authentically theirs, a trench camaraderie that makes it all the sweeter to think back to the days when the young left back was rubbish, but we all knew that he’d make it. The Click is an earned success, and one that resonates all the more deeply for the mental cost of the pre-Click days.
Pundits also love the Click, because they can reach back through the archives and point out the trends that made it happen, then chuckle in agreement about the value of team-spirit and hard graft and sticking by a manager, hoping it’ll make them harder to fire when they finally get a job back on some exalted bench. And coaches themselves definitely love the Click – it confirms them as adroit visionaries, and beats the hell out of the alternative.
So pity the manager who is stranded on the touchline, straining for the Click’s arrival. Slowly – so slowly – Brendan Rodgers is dropping elements of competence into the Liverpool morass, but they stubbornly remain broken islands of functionality. Sterling and Suárez may forge a nascent understanding here, but remain marooned from the infinite supply of arcing Gerrard through-balls there. Two solid centre-halves maintain a seamless partnership in front of a fractured keeper, while Joe Allen delivers perfect pass after perfect pass to Stuart Downing, who takes the ball and runs constantly into remote oblivion.
The Click looks like a distant friend to Rodgers right now, but that’s exactly how the Click arrives. Just when you least suspect it: boom! Competency! And everyone concerned can nod and say they saw it coming all along. Meanwhile – for possibly the only time in the history of those two teams – Liverpool are looking jealously eastwards, wishing they had some of what Norwich is enjoying.
Nicol Hay watches a lot of sport and then writes about it. It's a compulsion, and he needs help desperately. His blogging can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter here.