Coping In The Dugout – Part One

Continuing with my football related posts I have now turned my attention to the figure in the dug out. Arguably the most important, and the most difficult role in modern football, the football manager needs to be inspirational, tactically astute and calm under pressure.

A book I have recently finished reading, named the 90-Minute Manager, looked to compare the running of a business to the management of a football team, and although the book has its flaws and is a little dated, it is a pretty decent read. It has provided me with the inspiration for these articles where I focus on the role the manager plays, outside of the implementation of tactics and beyond the lone figure we see on match day.

How can you manage individuals effectively? How do you get the best of your staff? What is the long term vision for the club? How do you gain success? How do you sustain good morale? All of these questions and many more will be considered, owing much to the written work of David Bolchover and Chris Brady – the authors of the 90-Minute Manager. Anything quoted, unless otherwise noted, comes from their publication.

As previously stated in this blog, I believe that the most important aspect of a team is the manager, and the system and tactics he employs. It is not the players, it is not the finances of the club, it is the man in the dugout with the pen and paper. Look no further than the vast difference between Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and David Moyes’ Manchester United. Essentially the same squad of players but a huge difference in results and success. “In football, as in business, the skill sets of the players are virtually indistinguishable; what makes the difference is the manager”.

The recruitment of players should not always relate to their skill, talent and reputation. Though this may get the fans excited, it may boost shirt sales and increase news print, it may not help the club. Just look at Robinho at Manchester City. The players need to fit the culture the club has created or that it wishes to create. “It is what the great Liverpool teams of the Shankly/Paisley era called ‘character’. Their motto was to assume a skill level and buy ‘character’. By that they meant someone who fitted the culture”.

Perhaps the most well known example of this today is Barcelona’s policy of recruitment. Pedro and Sergio Busquets were promoted from the reserve team, and Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba were all brought back to the club after initially they were allowed to leave the Nou Camp. South Americans seem to fit the culture of Barcelona as well, their flair, creativity and style of play suit the Catalans, Alexis Sanchez, Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves and Adriano have all come to play prominent roles in recent years. The newest addition of Neymar is simply following this trend, the Santos coach Muricy Ramalho admitted that Barcelona, rather than Real Madrid, was the best suited club for Neymar. Big names with huge talent have failed to make it at the club, and this may be because of a culture clash, Zlatan Ibrahimovic being the most obvious example.

Despite what FIFA and Pro Evo makes you believe, and despite how easy Football Manager makes it seem, football is played with real humans. The human involvement is everything. Players are not robots, tactics wont just simply work, and people will not behave in precisely the way you would like them to.

Being a football manager is also being a man manager. A true people person. Tight bonds need to be built and close relationships maintained. The best managers take an interest in players’ personal lives and offer advice when necessary. Management needs to be given a personal, more human touch. Jose Mourinho is a great example of this. The connection he has with his players is immense and because of this connection his players do anything for him on the pitch. Take Mourinho’s friendship with Didier Drogba for example, and this emotional goodbye between Mourinho and Marco Materazzi. The club is a community, and the team is a family.

As well as the players, the background staff should not be ignored, as previously stated the entire culture of the club is important and a manager should make it a matter of pride to know the entire workforce. They are a key foundation for the team to progress and without the right staff behind them, it is unlikely they will go far. The staff need to support the manager, who must know and trust them unreservedly. All the staff, and the players, should have a shared vision for the club, and each must compliment the others attributes.

“Management should not be a lonely pursuit” and though they cast a solitary figure on the touchline, a manager should never be alone. The most essential signing for any manager is to hire a good assistant. The best candidate should be picked for the job as if the time ever comes when you cannot take charge of the team, either through illness or suspension, you know the team is in good hands.

Much time and effort should be spent finding the perfect assistant as it should not be a decision made lightly. It took Ferguson two months to find Steve Mclaren, scouring up and down the country. In the 2001/02 season Mclaren left Utd to manage Middlesbrough and Utd were left without an assistant, that year they finished third. All managers have weaknesses but by hiring the right background staff, and in particular the right assistant, the weaknesses can be covered by the strengths of other individuals.

Vanity and ego are easy traps to fall into for managers, and even the greatest have been guilty of it. “George Best syndrome” is a fatal flaw, and it is “the belief that you can coach the player who has been uncoachable by everyone else. It is the classic managerial vanity”. I wonder how many managers will fall into the trap of thinking they can tame Mario Balotelli. Roberto Mancini thought he could, Massimiliano Allegri thought he could and now there are rumours that Arsene Wenger thinks he is the man for the job.

Managers should have this in abundance. It should infect the players, the staff, and the fans, and should drive the club on season after season. Managers should always dream bigger and better, look to tighten up that solid defence a little bit more, get five more goals out of your world class striker, or gain one more trophy than last year.

When Pep Guardiola took over at Bayern Munich at the start of this season, he inherited the best team in the world, they had just won the treble, what more was there to do? Rather than being content with what he had, he set about improving it. Thiago Alcantara was brought in, as was Mario Gotze. Robert Lewandowski will join at the end of the season and judging by the performances so far, the team will surpass all the successes of the previous campaign.

Managers should never dwell on successes, Ferguson knew that, Guardiola knows that and so does Mourinho. As soon as a trophy is won he is already setting his sights on the next one. There is no time to bask in your own glory, with Mourinho there is work to be done. After winning his second title at Chelsea and being presented with a medal, Mourinho walked straight over to the crowd and threw the medal away. His mind was already on his next managerial challenge, Inter Milan.

As well being hungry for success managers should constantly be looking to learn. In the fast paced world of football, if you stay still, you get left behind. Managers need to adapt to change quickly and be open to new ideas and methods of playing. This is the major criticism about England, and has been for a number of years.

The argument is that at the international level England have not caught up with the majority of the leading countries. They play a different brand of football and use out-dated formations and tactics. It was only recently that England (finally) abandoned the 4-4-2 formation in favour of something more modern. Roy Hodgson was a safe choice for England manager, he will not revolutionise the team or the tactics, and he will not cause much of a fuss. With his dated philosophy though, Hodgson is destined to fail and until England appoint a manager with fresh ideas, they will continue to struggle.

Though a manager must be open to new ideas, he should also have the self-confidence and belief to stick with the decisions he makes. Managers cannot afford to get distracted by every idea that is thrown their way, and there are times whereby they need to have the strength to ignore the media and fans and stick to their laurels. If a star player is not working within a managers proven system, the player needs to go. For years Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were forced together as a pairing in the centre of England’s midfield, and for years it did not work. Despite everybody being aware of this manager after manager stuck with the two of them because of their names and reputations. Despite Juan Mata’s skill and reputation at Chelsea, Mourinho sold him, this was because despite being a star player, he did not fit Mourinho’s system.

In part two I will continue to look at the various roles and duties the manager must fulfil, concentrating on Strengths, Luck, Coping With Pressure and Securing Longevity, before moving on to the third and final part where I will look at Structure, Development and Recruitment.

This article was originally published on Proven Quality on February 25th 2014.



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3 thoughts on “Coping In The Dugout – Part One”

  1. Big fan of this. There is an awful lot to be said of man management, even at Camarthenshire league level! I did a piece of work on interdisciplinary teams during my Masters which looked a lot at how you resolve a conflict of interests between the parties working with players. EG. the coach doesnt want the players to see the S&C coach today because he doesnt want them tired before a specific session. The S&C coach is the one to blame if they pull a muscle so wants them in. That sort of thing. So not only do you need to manage a squad and their conflicting interests, but it may also be true of the staff who are helping you.

    Not sure I agree that Hodgson is outdated, he is changing the way England play, has no qualms dropping “big players” and just look at how many inexperienced players made the recent squad. Rodriguez = 1 cap, Lambert = 4, Sturridge = 9, Townsend = 4, Lallana = 2, Barkley = 3, Sterling = 1, Henderson = 7, Caulker = 1, Shaw = 0.

    I think he will change things.


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