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What Makes A Good Manager?
Greg (Tottenham Hotspur) 5 years ago
I'm fascinated by football managers. Maybe it's because I don't really know exactly what football managers do. In some clubs they are broken old men who wear raincoats and stand on training grounds in the rain, looking like elephants waiting to die. At other clubs they are sprightly men in their forties, bouncing around in shorts like enthusiastic PE teachers. And at some clubs they are sombre men in Italian suits who wander around the corridors spouting philosophy and hiding enigmatically behind corners. It seems that at every club the manager does something different: sometimes managers pick the teams; sometimes they oversee transfers; sometimes they take training sessions. Sometimes they do all of the above. Sometimes they do none of the above, but still get paid.

My dad used to say to me: "Football management is one of the few careers where you are continually rewarded for failure". It's a sentence that has stayed with me and I often think of it when watching football. In particular when watching teams managed by Peter Reid or Bryan Robson.

As a football fan, I know which players I think are good. I know which players have pace, which have vision, which are natural goalscorers and which are brilliant defenders. It's fairly easy to tell when a football player is good (or bad). But what makes a good manager? More importantly, when is it possible to state with absolute certainty that a manager is bad?

I'm curious as to how you judge a manager's success. There are a handful of managers (Ferguson, Mourinho, Van Gaal, Ancelotti etc) who are consistently successful over a long period of time with a number of different clubs. But the majority of managers are as accustomed to failure as they are to success. The majority of managers never win anything of note; they will take over at a club, sign a few players, win a few games, lose a few games and are then sacked. And then the whole cycle repeats itself somewhere else. For the most football managers, failure is far more common than success. Most managers make a career out of brief spells of success followed by large periods of failure.

Let's take a few examples. Avram Grant is a good start. Looking solely at his career in England, he took Chelsea to within a penalty kick of winning the Champions League but finished his time at Stamford Bridge empty-handed. He took a bankrupt Portsmouth to the FA Cup Final but got them relegated in the same season. And with West Ham he skipped the FA Cup Final and just got them relegated. For every success on his CV there is a failure. I honestly couldn't tell you if he is a good manager or a terrible manager. Probably the latter but I can't be sure.

Similarly, look at Owen Coyle. He has a reputation as one of the league's promising young managers. When he took over at Bolton last season he got an ugly, failing Bolton side and got them winning and playing with style. This season, without doing much different, he's got Bolton playing bad football and on course to be relegated. Is he a good manager? Is he a terrible manager? I still don't know. If you judge him by results, he's clearly not very good.

Part of the reason it's hard to tell if a manager is terrible is that managers stick by each other. Take Roberto Martinez at Wigan. As I write this, Wigan are currently second bottom of the Premier League and have just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Swindon. And yet there is a line of fellow managers queuing up to say that Martinez is doing a fantastic job at Wigan. (This queue is always headed by Harry Redknapp, who will always say that the opposition are a "good side" and that the manager is doing a "terrific job".)

In fact, the only people who ever say that club managers are rubbish are the fans: In all my time watching football, I've never heard a single chairman, manager, commentator or pundit say that a manager is bad at their job. It doesn't matter how hopeless a manager is, or how often they manage to steer their clubs towards relegation, the press never quite have the guts to say that a manager is bad at his job. With Blackburn barely winning a game in 2011 and propping up the Premier League table and looking set for relegation, not a single TV pundit has considered uttering the phrase: "Steve Kean isn't a very good manager."

Indeed, if and when Steve Kean is sacked as manager the only real certainty will be that he will be hired again. Because, as my dad wisely says, it doesn't matter how bad you are at football management, you will still be offered another job. Any briefly unemployed manager can cheer themselves up by remembering that no matter how often Iain Dowie demonstrates that he's not a very good manager, there will always be another club willing to take a chance on him.

This blog does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of footytube or its partners.
Gochendo (CD Colo Colo) 5 years ago
I think you aren't that erudite in football if you don´t consider that teams in the different leagues have different objectives, and subsequently different kind of coaches to accomplish them. Some teams play to win the leagues, or at least to qualify to continental championships. If you have a team with powerful players in your offensive, you will have offensive coaches and winners. Sometimes you can win defending too.... But that's is the elite of the "winners". There are other teams who don't play to win the league but to qualify to european cups, because your team players are weaker. Then you have a coach that can deal with that situation.... If you put guardiola in a mediocre team, I bet you he don't win s**t. There are some teams that plays the league only to not be relegated. Then you gotta' have coaches experts in dealing with awful players and winning points here or there.... My point is, there's a kind of coach for every team.... And sometimes the objectives are not the same for anyone in the league.... Keep watching football
Jimmybreeze (Manchester United) 5 years ago
Yeah, and you keep looking for that sense of humour of yours
Markodon (NK Dinamo Zagreb) 5 years ago
Lol Jimmy, you made me crack up
Rubin (Inter Milan) 5 years ago
Very good article. I enjoyed reading it
Coyb18 (Chelsea) 5 years ago
What a quality article! I've been thinking the same sort of thing ever since AVB got put as Chelsea boss.... What makes him SO good? I could make as much of a mess as he has.... Great read!
Jgibbs2 (Chelsea) 5 years ago
You think Avram Grant got Portsmouth relegated? He was a miracle worker there. First off, he took over half-way through the season when they had 7 points from 14 games. Over that summer they had sold most of their best players including Glen Johnson, Niko Kranjcar, Sylvain Distin, and Crouchie and were banned from purchasing more players due to their administration. Despite this, he led them to 21 points from their remaining 24 games. This would have put them just 3 points from staying up had there not been a 9 point penalty for going in to relegation. Had Grant been managing the entire year, another 3 points would have been likely given their form under him. The FA Cup final appearance also would have earned them a Europa League spot, but they were denied a European license due to their financial status, so Liverpool got the nod there instead.

I don't have major qualms with the article as a whole, but to say that Avram Grant got Portsmouth relegated is flat out wrong - (his record at Chelsea was 36 wins, 12 draws, and 6 losses is actually better than Carlo Ancelotti's record of 67-20-22). I'd say if you were still unsure, Avram Grant is at least a decent manager, having proven success with a top Club like Chelsea and a struggling Portsmouth despite his failure at West Ham
Jgibbs2 (Chelsea) 5 years ago
I enjoyed the article as a whole though. It is interesting to me that the vast majority of managers, both good and bad, are former top flight footballers. It doesn't seem to me that there is a correlation between the quality of a player and their managing ability (Maradona anyone?), in fact Mourinho was never much of a footballer at all. Perhaps clubs should start looking for managers who have proven their tactical nous and man management skills at the lower levels and have worked their way up the management heirarchy rather than hiring big name former superstars to come in to the top flights for a trial by fire
Greg (Tottenham Hotspur) 5 years ago
You kind of prove my point. The facts are that Portsmouth got relegated with Avram Grant in charge. You can argue that it wasn't his fault and that he did well with the players at his disposal (I would agree with you). The facts also show that he did well at Chelsea, getting them to the Champions League final, but you could argue that he inherited an extremely strong squad and all he had to do was keep picking the same team that Mourinho had picked. My argument isn't whether Avram Grant is a good manager or not - my argument is that it's very hard to say whether he - and most other managers - are any good. You think he's a very good manager, but I know lots of people (particularly West Ham fans) who think he is a terrible manager. It's very hard to tell
LumpOfCelery (Chelsea) 5 years ago
Another great article Greg. Keep it up
Flavio1975 (CA River Plate) 5 years ago
I think a good coach is one that can get the best out of every player in his squad. To do that, he much show every player that he appreciates having them in the team. Every player must feel as though they are vital for the coach. That's hard to do when from a squad of around 25 only 11 can play each week. The couch needs to keep every player motivated throughout the whole year, especially the ones that don´t play every week. A good coach, I beleive, is one that can get his message across to his players so not only do they understand him but also beleive in him, in his strategies. Having said all that, a team which has a strong bond, that all pull in the same direction and sacrifice themselves for one another is a key factor in any winning side and that is unfortunately something the manager has limited influence on. If the players don't get along.... Oh yeah, one more thing, a good manager gets results !
FootballForever (Manchester United) 5 years ago
I think a good connection with the players is very important. Obviously they need to be good with money and knowledge of the game, but if they aren't passionate about the game and can't connect with their players, then they won't be one of the great managers
FootyRulz (Chelsea) 5 years ago
Great Article. I completely agree with you. Keep up the good work . In my opinion a good manager is one that can win trophies with any team he manages. He should be the kind a person that can take over clubs that are struggling in mid table and turn them title contenders. In today's football is all about results and any manager that can get them out of the team he manages is considered a 'good' manager
StokeCity (Stoke City) 5 years ago
Smashing article Greg!
Jeroen (Barcelona) 5 years ago
Great blog mate, a serious topic brought with a sense of humour is always a good read.

I'm one of those guys with a lot of time on their hands, and I love spending it on thinking about things like these. My opinion of what makes a good manager, and a football manager in particular, is quite well-formed, and I secretly still aspire a career in football management myself. But don't tell anyone.

These are the traits I think a manager should have at the very least:

* Love for football and the managing side of it. Without it, you'll never last and you'll never be able to make the right decisions.
* A football brain. You obviously need to know what you're doing, and preferably have experience in the football world with a clear ideology. All great managers have their own ideology, which must be clear so players will easily understand it and be able to play the way you want them to.
* An eye for talent. This is another critical aspect a manager should have. And if he doesn't, he should have someone by his side who does. If you have your ideology, you'll never be able to get it to work without the proper players. When you have your blueprint, you need the right building materials.

These are traits that are often lacking in managers, but are paramount qualities in most top managers:

* Charismatic leadership and the ability to communicate well. This is a vital aspect for any manager, not just in football. If you are not an able speaker, you will be put down by the press, by your own board of directors, by your own fans and even worse, by your own players. The ability to mend painful situations with words, or even to turn them around into an advantage, is critical. This is a quality lacking in quite a few managers in football which, IMO, often is the cause of their dismissal. A lack of charisma and a way with words often is the cause of a lack of trust from all parties involved. And that's deadly in football.
* Creative intelligence. If you are the kind of manager who can not quickly come up with solutions to problems you did not or could not anticipate, you are in trouble. To make a game-changing change is not easy, but good managers have the ability to immediately see what is going wrong and provide a solution too. And not just during a game of football.
* Determination and a winning mentality. When you lack the determination to keep going in difficult situations as a manager, your players will lack it too. A big reason why a manager like Sir Alex is so successful is that he's a stubborn man who hates losing more than anything. The same goes for Mourinho and Van Gaal, for example. Neither of these three men seem like the kind of person you'd like to grab a pint with, because they always know everything better and will do almost anything to win whatever they start. But that annoying stubbornness is a great asset when you are actually right. And an intelligent manager who knows what is going on, often is right
Ruskin (Liverpool) 5 years ago
A man for all seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson, through out his carreer developed more players coaches through his stable, all for the love of the Game
Rubin (Inter Milan) 5 years ago
I think the ability to communicate well is a very important trait that clubs nowadays are ignoring when hiring new managers. I really wonder if a manager like Mancini has the ability to give an inspiring speech at the half time break when his team is down or do Manchester City players even understand his advice when they're about to come on the pitch as substitutes. Of course City sit on top of the league at the moment, but if they fail to win the trophy at the end of the season, would the manager's lack of ability to communicate well be part of the reason why they failed?
Ruskin (Liverpool) 5 years ago
Bob Paisley, when Liverpool where winning everything. Jimmy Hill would ask him, what is your secret Bob. Paisley relied well ya know ya know. Still is to this day the most succesfull English Manager, L. Oh. L
[account-removed] 5 years ago
Very nice article and a great point to debate. Bravo from my side *clap clap*
Citehzen (Manchester City) 5 years ago
There are several professions like this in which the job itself involves such a horrendously giant pile of varying factors that your success or failure could be hinged on any one, several, or a specific series of factors in your situation. Take teachers for example. If students test high with this teacher is it because the teacher is good or the students were already testing high. If they test bad, etc.

In my view, while yes being incredibly observant and aware is a huge part to knowing how to improve a club, there is some certain "magic" that a great manager has despite whether they win or lose. Guus hiddink, terrible turkey spell, but who wouldnt say "very very good manager" its his persona. Redknapp has this persona I believe as well. Anyway its the magic factor that trumps the technical definition of good manager
Pranii (Chelsea) 5 years ago
Lovely article. Enjoyed it so much.
Borg (Manchester United) 4 years ago
As football fans we all like to think we know anything and everything there is to know. The truth is we don't really know s**t compared to someone within the sub-culture. The match you see on television, the transfers in/out, the injury list, or the final lineup; they all equate to maybe less than 10% of what is actually happening. We see the end product. We don't know what the players personalities are like. We don't see the training and tactical sessions during the week. We don't know what the doctor or physio said. All we have are the end results, and that's what fans base their judgement on: winning or losing the match. A good manager is judged just like any other profession, can he get a result?
FootyRulz (Chelsea) 4 years ago
Completely agree with you, it's all about the results nowadays
Borg (Manchester United) 4 years ago
*double post*

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