Thursday, July 19, 2012
The new breed
The manager was born to manage. Or so the theory goes, anyway. The cult of the manager has often been at its strongest in English football - the belief that, whether through dictatorial authority, wisecracking bonhomie, an unnatural calm in moments of pressure or sheer charisma, the destiny of some men was pre-determined. They are not as much appointed as anointed.
And yet this summer lends itself to a very different impression. Four Premier League clubs have chosen men with less than a decade in management between them but almost 60 years of coaching, scouting and various behind-the-scenes jobs. Steve Clarke, Chris Hughton, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas have spent much of their careers being obscured by the more glamorous figure who was the front-of-house attraction.
In the cases of the recent arrivals at West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, there was nothing inevitable about the move into management. A serial second-in-command, Hughton's first job came at Newcastle United when Mike Ashley neglected to appoint anyone, results were secured by the caretaker and he was belatedly confirmed in charge. Unlike more iconic managers, the amiable Hughton has no aura. Rewind a few years and it was easier to imagine him as the most considerate of next-door neighbours than a leading character in the Premier League soap opera, yet his understated approach has brought results for both Newcastle and Birmingham and he has displayed integrity in difficult circumstances.
Another former full-back, Clarke also earned a reputation as a loyal lieutenant and, increasingly, as a defensive strategist. Few have served a more distinguished apprenticeship, with his CV including spells under Ruud Gullit, Sir Bobby Robson, Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish. If he is a success at the Hawthorns, it may be through nurture as much as nature.
Indeed, Mourinho is the common denominator between the newcomers at Albion, Liverpool and Tottenham. If there is a shared hope that some of the stardust has rubbed off, the Portuguese's career may provide a lesson in itself. Hard though it is to think of him being subservient to anyone, he learnt while on Robson's and then Louis van Gaal's staff. Like Rodgers and Villas-Boas, he did not play football professionally. That necessitated a gruelling schooling and the accumulation of the sort of qualifications some illustrious footballers are too arrogant to study for. It involved exiting a personal comfort zone in a quest for experience: Villas-Boas, at 21, was the youngest man on an SFA coaching course in Largs, earning his badges alongside some hard-bitten veterans of the Scottish leagues. In their long wait for a chance in the hot seat, Rodgers and Villas-Boas developed distinct philosophies on how the game should be played.
Each, in his own way, is an indication of the merits of not parachuting ex-players into management at the first possible opportunity. The advantages for the clubs stretch beyond that, however. The age of the autocrat is nearing its end: the last two are Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger (combined age: 132). Even managers who run their clubs from top to bottom, such as David Moyes and Roberto Martinez, are rarities. Indeed, technically, Clarke is not a manager at all. His title is 'head coach'. So was Roy Hodgson's, despite the latter's greater experience in the dugout. Because Albion, while on their fourth head coach in little over three years, have continuity. The input of sporting director Dan Ashworth, who is responsible for much of their excellent recruitment, means they do not have to start from scratch when a manager leaves.
In plenty of places, the role of manager is shifting. Albion may have the division's only head coach in name but others have similar duties. Newcastle's rise owes much to their transfer market prowess, which, in turn, reflects upon chief scout Graham Carr. Alan Pardew's responsibilities entail coaching and selecting the side.
It is more of a continental system. There remains a stigma about the title of director of football in England - managers fear a lessening of their powers, and indeed Rodgers was able to persuade Liverpool's owners not to have one - but, even if unofficially, more clubs have come to the conclusion that the dictatorial manager is a dinosaur. Even without an immediate superior, Rodgers is likely to be more accountable than Kenny Dalglish was at Anfield. Randy Lerner is unlikely to grant another manager as much leeway as Martin O'Neill was allowed. Anyone employed by Tottenham has to accept Daniel Levy's involvement in transfers.
Manchester City have a football administration officer, in Brian Marwood, while Tim Sherwood is expected to take a prominent - but as yet unspecified - role in Spurs' new structure. Given the cliche that the next game is the most important, short-termism can pervade in management, so others are employed to take a longer term view.
While Ferguson, Wenger and Moyes are rarities in their longevity, Reading have had a director of football for nine years (and, unlike his counterparts elsewhere, that is his official status). Nicky Hammond is a reason the Royals have often bought low and sold high, developing players and earning promotion in that time. Manager Brian McDermott, formerly chief scout and in charge of the Under-19s and reserves, and his Southampton counterpart Nigel Adkins, who spent a decade as Scunthorpe's physio, are other unlikely figures to be at the helm of Premier League clubs but provide further examples of bosses with a broader experience and a grounding lower in the footballing firmament. Neither was ever a big name, with the advantages that brings. Both had to work for his chance.
It is a theme. Because this summer's many managerial changes in the Premier League show that the career coach is on the rise. The manager, the man who has known nothing other than being in charge, is in decline.