Coping In The Dugout – Part Three

And so we head in to extra time. Following on from part one and part two, we now turn our attention towards development, recruitment and a vital skill that all great managers possess. The 90-Minute Manager has provided me with the spine of these articles, and as ever, all quotes are from that publication unless otherwise stated.

In order for any project to be successful, the groundwork has to be laid first. The foundations must be solid, and if they are not, success will either be extremely short lived or very difficult to achieve. If a club is solely reliant on a billionaire owner then what happens when that owner decides to leave, or the money dries up? The club goes into free fall. Look at Portsmouth languishing down the bottom of League Two. Just five seasons ago Portsmouth were playing against the Likes of AC Milan in European competitions. How times change.

A managers motivation and man management can bring short term success but hard work on foundations and laying the groundwork is needed for sustained dominance.  As mentioned in part one, staff play a vital role, and they are a key element to the structure of a club, but in order to get the best out of your staff, and players, you need to get the best out of your facilities.

Training facilities are where coaches develop talent, and players hone and improve skills. Bill Shankly was said to have Liverpool’s Melwood training ground transformed when he arrived, Sir Alex Ferguson helped “to conceive and design Carrington”, and Arsene Wenger also played a leading role in having state-of-the-art training facilities installed at Arsenal. Jose Mourinho too, was quick to point out the necessity of having world class facilities. Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre cost a reported £20m and according to an interview in 2004, Mourinho regarded the move to the centre as a “significant step forward”. More recently Borussia Dortmund have been praised for their facilities, and as this video shows, the facilities compliment their playing style greatly. Success on the pitch is directly linked to the structure and facilities off the pitch.

If a club has a good structure and solid foundations then it is likely that it has also invested in another background area that is essential for sustained success, youth development. A heavy emphasis on training and youth development can create a sort of conveyor belt of talent, where players are found, nurtured and then utilised.

Examples of this are Barcelona recently, Manchester United in the 90’s, Liverpool in the 70’s and 80’s and even the current Southampton team to a certain extent. The long term strategy of these clubs is success through sustainability. They did not focus on one title, or spending big money in order to achieve short periods of success.

Long term strategy’s for all clubs should be fairly similar, the wheel does not have to be re-invented. The Ferguson way, the Ajax way, the Barcelona way, and now the Southampton way is to bring “young players through the system from an early age. These players feel an affection and loyalty for the club and serve to create a positive… ethos. The homegrown players are then joined by carefully selected top-level recruits from the domestic league or abroad, creating a potent mix of talent and team spirit and understanding”.

Barcelona developed Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro and Lionel Messi, and then added foreign, or outside, talent where they needed it, Dani Alves, Eric Abidal, Javier Macherano, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Neymar. Manchester United did the same in the 90’s David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, were complimented by talent acquired elsewhere, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Eric Cantona and so on. If we look at Southampton currently, though they have not equalled the success of Manchester United or Barcelona, the structure is in place to enable the club to have a very bright future. Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott all came through the Southampton academy before moving on to greener pastures, James Ward-Prowse, Adam Lallana, Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw are all still at Southampton having come through the academy ranks as well.

Youth development is not just needed to produce quality players for the starting eleven, it is also needed because inevitably, as is the case with Southampton, a handful of players will decide to leave and the club will need to make sure there is someone in line to replace them. “Success [needs to be] sustained even in the face of constant turnover of personnel”.

The 90-Minute Manager states that “by far the most effective way of achieving this is by placing great emphasis on educating talented young recruits in the ways of the organisations from the very moment they arrive. Not only does it protect the organisation against defection, it is also highly cost effective”.

As mentioned earlier, only when the homegrown players and the locally sourced talent does not suffice should teams look to players abroad, this is the policy that Matt Busby had at Manchester United, he said “if my club decides to buy a player it is because every other method of filling a place in the Manchester United team has failed”. David Miller, Busby’s biographer said “Busby formed a team which created a conveyor belt carrying the most talented boys in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales from the classroom to the Manchester United first team. It was a system, a machine, which other clubs came to fear and resent”. Busby himself had this to say “I did not set out to build a team: the task ahead was much bigger than that. What I really embarked on was the building of a system which would produce not one team but four or five, each occupying a rung on the ladder, the summit of which was the first XI”. This is a fantastic way of running a club and establishing a youth development system.

Barcelona’s La Masia complex is world renowned, and is arguably the best example of youth development in the history of football. In the 2010 season it received perhaps the greatest of all honours, becoming the first youth academy to have trained all three finalists of the Ballon d’Or.

From an early age Barcelona players are given the essential coaching needed for them to thrive at the club. The BBC reported that Barcelona had a “dedication to remain true to its principles from the bottom up, where six-year-olds are taught the same fundamentals as the first team”.

When Bill Shankly was in charge at Liverpool, he followed the same belief. He “lavished attention on the clubs youth policy”, players were brought in at a young age and moulded into what was needed. The reserve and youth team was educated in Shankly’s football philosophy.

Ferguson was no different, holding a strong focus on youth development. “He had gradually built success at his previous club, Aberdeen, by implementing an efficient youth policy. His Aberdeen team that had won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983… contained only three bought players. He was determined to replicate this success at United”.

It would be foolish, or naive, to rely solely on the talent developed by the academy, no matter how good they may be. Youth needs to be supplemented as well, in order to steady the ship, to pass the time until the golden generation comes through, or to provide competition for places. A good manager is one that is pro-active, they add new players and keep experienced players hungry.

Bob Paisley once said “it is essential to keep a turnover of players by bringing in new blood… I think it’s got to be turned over year by year – an addition here, an addition there”. All teams require rejuvenation, and if the club has been run well this should not mean a massive overhaul of players. “Planned and incremental redundancies rather than wholesale and dramatic changes” are what is recommended, and maybe this is where Tottenham have suffered this season. Their over reliance on Gareth Bale last year meant that dramatic changes were necessary when he was sold and this overhaul has produced instability.

The 90-Minute Manager states that “every club chairman… will tell you that [a] manager is always just two [or three] players short of the perfect squad”. Manchester United had gone almost thirty years since a league title before the 1992/93 season, Ferguson then pulled off the transfer of the decade and signed Eric Cantona. United have not finished outside of the top three since.

A similar impact has been made by Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and Luis Suarez at Liverpool, both clubs were not considered as genuine title challengers at the start of the season but are now very much in the hunt for silverware. If Arsenal were to add two more players of the quality of Ozil, and Liverpool two of the quality of Suarez, then you would have to think they would become favourites for the league title.

One of the essential rules of business is to hire slow and fire fast. A manager should not be afraid to admit a mistake was made, and cut their losses when things don’t go as planned. Liverpool are learning this mantra after disobeying it in the recent past. Andy Carroll seemed a spur of the moment buy, rather than someone they had invested a lot of time and research into. After the disaster of that transfer, along with Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, Liverpool are becoming more cautious about player recruitment, making sure that it is the right purchase to make.

The world of football moves very fast, and if you don’t keep up with it, you are likely to get left behind. There is no room for sentiment in football, and ruthlessness is often rewarded. The ruthlessness of a manager, and the need to constantly bring in fresh new talent are closely intertwined. If a manager becomes too sentimental and stays with those he knows and trusts, rather than acquiring new talent from elsewhere, sooner or later the club will begin to struggle.

A revolution may not be necessary but annual sales and purchases are essential. For far too long Ferguson insisted on playing Laurent Blanc despite the fact he “was past his best and was statistically United’d worst performer”. Ferguson had chased him so long that he really did not want to give him up once he had him.

A manager, especially a successful one, must be ruthless when needed. Bill Shankly once said “if you cannot make decisions as a manager, you’re nothing, you should get out”. Aside from Laurent Blanc, Ferguson showed he was more than willing to make touch decisions. The great partnership of Yorke and Cole did not last long after the treble winning season. Jaap Stam was moved on after Ferguson felt his performances were dropping. One of United’s star players in David Beckham was allowed to go once Fergie believed he was not focussing 100% on football.

Rafael Benitez displayed his ruthless side after Liverpool’s European Cup triumph in 2005. “He showed no sentimentality to the players that had won him the trophy. He sold Igor Biscan, and also Vladimir Smicer who scored in the final itself. Jerzy Dudek, whose goalkeeping heroics won the game for Liverpool, was replaced by Jose Reina for the following season”.

And with that the final whistle goes. We have come to the end of this series of articles, and it is my hope this has provided food for thought, as well as tips on how to become a successful football manager – if not in real life, then at least on the laptop.

Though many bloggers, journalists and football enthusiasts analyse the players, the tactics, and the statistics, it is important to remember that football is a sport played by real people. I shall leave you with a quote from arguably the greatest football manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson;

“When critics of our game parade their theories about the attributes that lift certain teams above others, I am always amused by their eagerness to concentrate almost exclusively on technical and tactical comparisons. Frequently they discuss football in abstract terms, overlooking the reality that it is played by creatures of flesh and blood and feeling. Tactics are important, but they don’t win football matches. Men win football matches”.

This article was originally published on Proven Quality on March 20th 2014.



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