As father time beckons social media-averse generations of moderately lucrative domestic helmsmen and FA coaching programme graduates – Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock and perhaps even the increasingly tactically expendable Tony Pulis included – towards a proverbial kicking-and-screaming retirement, antiquated employees, uninspiring in a modern context, reflect the changing desires of an entire industry in which they are, ultimately, scapegoats.
Beguilingly, it is the ilk of Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville – products of remarkable academy outfits, trained under echelons of managerial talent arguably unsurpassed in the Premier League, multiple-trophy victors and cultured internationals – that are hailed most prominently as potential candidates for positions, at this formative stage, both in the Football League, and in the distant future perhaps even at their respective former clubs.
In contradiction to their mutual broadcasting exploits – and non-league ownership accountabilities, in the case of the latter trio –, however, these ties have as yet been rendered untenable, with varying degrees of professional coaching insurgence witnessed and scrutinised amidst Neville’s ill-fated Valencia tenure, Gerrard’s recently-adopted Liverpool under-18 management role, Scholes’ coy Oldham links and Giggs’ Swansea ties following a 2014 four-game interim Manchester United occupancy. Is this disproportionate, yet coveted, distortion in fact a realistic encapsulation of the drastic reform the British coaching system could be set to undergo in the foreseeable future? To an extent, a similar trend could be emerging across the globe in the context of the impending retirements of Guus Hiddink, Dick Advocaat and Arsene Wenger – where each hail from a nation presently struggling to harness the full extent of their kaleidoscope of youthful promise – but do widely accepted fallacies of generational shifts boast credence in such examples? Ultimately, is personality – or style – overriding the substance of management in modern circumstances, or is romanticism simply skewing the rationality of broadcasters in our interpretation of events?
Underlying each passing day, and match, in the context of the slanderous, immediately pre-emptive broadcasting trends we are exposed to across numerous platforms today, is the martyrdom or salvation of elite-level managers. The disposable acreage of each club’s multifaceted equity assembly, they are prone to a greater, and more prolonged, extent of denigrating torment in the midst of tactical struggle – quite rightly, certain quarters may argue, when referencing their superior professional requirements and accumulated knowledge – yet are rarely hailed to equally iconic statuses as those implementing their philosophies in victorious accomplishments. It can, of course, be debated that as progressive history coagulates, it becomes the commander, as opposed to the soldier, who is regarded, and broadly projected, with the honour of achievement; affirming English eighteenth century dramatist George Colman the Younger’s declaration to “praise the bridge that takes you over.” Certainly, amongst sporting subcultures more appreciative of perpetually progressive tactical flair and innovation, in conjunction with its implementation, as opposed to the purely ephemeral fixation on physiological aesthetics, such a conclusion could prove appropriate, yet with mainstream media increasingly straying – in the pursuit of commercial, or social, relevance – into the degrading rhetoric and toxic milieu of presumptuous subsections of club support more vaunting of apparent loyalty above objectivity and basic justice, such present interpretations appear self-misleading. Despite the evident influence of Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp, as a segment of the sharpest intellects available in the modern elite form of the sport, on the enhancement of English Premier League quality and tactical trailblazing much-lauded in present Champions League reputes, it appears particularly English demographics remain averse to divert from idiosyncratically condemnatory values, nor the disingenuous bandwagoning on Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Phil Jones, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Harry Kane, amongst others.
Alongside us, as consumers, however, are playing staff and administrative club kingpins as receptive to the erratic reputational qualities of managerial candidates amidst modern trends, and if so, how significant could its role be in the impending appointments set to pose boards of directors – largely, in this example – across the continent? Cults of apparent compatibility ruled by commercial value may convince vulnerable chairmen, granted, and the temptation of serving under personal idols could potentially alter a squad’s position, yet you’d imagine the current rationality of appointment – at least in most sane confines – would at least be maintained, if not rendered acutely pertinent, in an environment placing greater economic emphasis on every single performance than any preceding it. This interpretation, however, is totally reliant on present curriculum vitae, with Gerrard having only recently secured his UEFA A Coaching Licence, Giggs and Neville – as former, albeit brief, Premier League and La Liga bosses respectively – boasting Pro Licences, and the reluctant Scholes only a B Licence, while having to realistically compete with journeymen and established cronies, perhaps of 20 years’ experience at such a rung and with infamously extensive contacts, in order to gain even initial gravity in the managerial market. Gerrard, as the only member of the quartet currently in professional employment, reveals a commendable pragmatism that defined his later playing years and likely identifies with each of his fellow coaching programme products in the context of embracing duties to future generations; “If you come out of the game and automatically think you’re going to be a top coach because of the name on your back, or the career that you’ve had, then I think you’re taking big risks and cutting a lot of corners and a lot of learning, growing and evolving out.”
Cynicism, if anything, persists Scholes’ identification with the regressive culture of management in English hinterlands – stating in an exert from the Class of 92: Out of Our League book, released in September 2016; “I’d probably be sacked after five games if I was manager, wouldn’t I? I don’t really know if I’ll ever manage. I’ve done my UEFA B Licence. I haven’t done the A Licence. I will get it done. But I’m just wondering, is it worth it? I haven’t had any major offers. I had one offer from Oldham a couple of years ago.” This caution has perhaps manifested rather poignantly in the current status of many FA tutelage graduates as assistant managers and youth coaches, as opposed to the ‘shop window’ Brian Clough once eulogised. Nicky Butt (Manchester United Head of Academy), Phil Neville (former Valencia assistant), Kevin Phillips (Derby first team coach) and James Beattie (Middlesbrough first-team coach) each embody what may be attributed as an institutional disparity and preceding distrust, if any character flaw exists, in their commitment to the development of club standards as opposed to personal perseverance; yet what is, in fact, failure to exhibit the ruthlessness or tactical ingenuity of overseas exponents, nor the systematic and comprehensive knowledge of proceedings of established lower-league figures. Further allusion is delivered in Gerrard’s admission – though biased in its depiction, through Peter Glynn’s (FA education content editor) astute ‘boot room’ questioning and slant – that “A lot of ex-players over the years have been put off by the amount of work you have to put in on the[coaching] courses. I think [in the past] it was almost a test on the courses and people were intimidated to fail and didn’t want to be put in the spotlight in front of all the other people that were on the course. The good thing about the FA now is they’ve changed the courses, they’ve evolved the courses and they’re more enjoyable. You’ve still got to put the work in but you get time to grow. So when you are judged or tested, you feel more ready.”
Regardless of how negligible Dan Ashworth – who personally contacted Gerrard, amongst other former Three Lions representatives, regarding the pursuit of qualifications – and the broader FA may intend the feature of a palpable character reverence to be in the coaching courses and future management they espouse, however, unless there is a radical departure in the direction of sporting culture across the globe, their task will succumb to fundamental psychology. Emboldened, in an egocentric vacuum, by the platitude of plaudits – financially beneficial or otherwise – enveloping their sheltered route to international representation, the products of present elite academy systems rarely have impressed upon them the pivotal concept of administration. Institutionalised footballing culture may have altered to depict the pursuit of post-retirement coaching employment as a theme of charity, and punditry – an exclusive profession prior to the expansion of subscription services comprising, amongst others, Sky Sports and BT Sport – as the stable, less demanding vocational course. Punditry, in its vastly broadcasted, intensely lucrative circumstance, serves to protect the sycophantic cult, particularly of English ex-internationals both lauded and derided by an infatuated media, and entices those devoid of both evident post-playing plans and the necessity for further revenue following demonstrable playing salaries.
Management is, through its very fabric, a resilient, and arguably naïve, individual’s profession. The tribulations of successive generations of established internationals – Stuart Pearce, David Platt, Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Ince, Ray Wilkins, John Barnes, Tony Adams, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles amongst their number – only allude to the fundamental character detriments of a national team bourgeoisie, with only Jack Charlton (35 caps), Alf Ramsey (32), Don Revie (six), Joe Mercer (five) and Brian Clough (two) the omissions to such an alarming precedent of the professionalised era. Certainly, when presented with such imposing underlying circumstance, there is a subsequent impulse to denounce the potential of future aspirations – yet as a culture we must guard against pre-emptive complacency. FA Technical Director Ashworth evidently intends to eradicate the subservience and malaise that has festered with the oblivious advocacy of a systemically profligate and uncompromising coaching programme, and thus prevent the further spurning of certain coaching abilities, yet can he truly achieve impartiality, objectivity and future aptitude, above mere competence, amongst former internationals to counterbalance the extensive catalogue of former semi-professionals and inferior professionals the nation boasts?
This is a concern facing many global associations presently, yet the plight of English councils appears drastic; Gareth Southgate’s uninspiring presence as Three Lions senior helmsman ineffective if intended to dispel certain inferences. Aforementioned Dutch associations have recently witnessed a long-standing and nationally respected former international, the 107-time-capped Giovanni van Bronckhorst, guide Feyenoord to the 2015-16 KNVB Cup and 2016-17 Eredivisie title – the Rotterdam outfit’s first in a lean spell of 18 years – while, in unambiguous contrast, the closest any current English top-flight manager (Michael Appleton, interim Leicester City boss, included) has come to the national side was Eddie Howe’s duo of under-21 appearances issued alongside the ilk of Emile Heskey, Jamie Carragher and Frank Lampard at 1998’s Toulon Tournament edition. Those who doubt the relevance or influence of such elite experience, either, should be directed to the focal internationals Pep Guardiola (47 Spanish caps), Antonio Conte (20 Italian appearances), Mauricio Pochettino (also 20 Argentine runouts) at the vanguard of Premier League rivalry, in addition to Zinedine Zidane (108 French caps, and a World Cup to his name) and Diego Simeone (106 such Argentine presences, a Confederations Cup and two Copa Américas) as the beacons of empowered tactical trailblazing; finally verifying playing privilege not as a hindrance to managerial capabilities, but as an increasingly pivotal aspect of evolving administrative duties.
Regardless of era, and broadly geopolitical or ideological circumstance – unless dictated to in decision by an acutely autocratic state, or devolving responsibility in the process espoused currently at RB Leipzig, where Ralf Rangnick, as the more prominent ‘Sporting Director’, delegates coaching tasks to former Ingolstadt boss Ralph Hasenhüttl – the immediate thesis of managerial power will remain seated with the qualities of tactical coherence, coaching prowess, adept interpersonal harmonising and, though an unenviable aspect, disciplinarian status. For the survival of the profession, there is no reneging on these factors. Providing trends demonstrating the exponential incline of astronomical wages across global fronts continue to permeate the existence of professionalised, particularly elitist, ranks, diverse propositions may soon be footed at the vulnerable centralised figures external audiences revel, in their sensationalist majority, in the vilification of. The implication of a lifestyle marred by such acutely prominent fame and resultant responsibilities may arise for an increasing array of young players, and if club psychologists cannot sufficiently resolve the issue, a figure vaulted in international relevance for the exploits of a turbulent decade, and highly esteemed amongst all in the sporting community, could prove an effective resort. Comprehending the escalating demands of contemporary professionals is a rarely-lauded aspect of managerial care, complementing tactical flair. These are not concerns that can afford to be shouldered, nor devalued, in an age increasingly aware of the distinction of mental health, particularly among young professionals, in this sector, and the duty falls both with the hopefully revered employees at the forefront of sporting exploits and the broader institution of employment as to provide guidance and sincerity.
Nor can the minutiae of a publicly flagrant sporting lifestyle be undermined. Though certainly not incapable, coaches who have grafted careers towards the pinnacle of management from humble playing careers, and have largely operated in definitive hierarchical structures, cannot comprehend, nor operate to such erudite extents, the potential circumstances of a national cup final, continental competition, international tournament or other vaulted occasions to the same extent as a former elite-level, all-observing ex-idol. Similarly, though decidedly generationally-dictated, the socio-economic undertones of unrest – pertaining to the submission of a transfer request –, cultural alienation, perhaps amidst remote pre-season excursions, or the modern work-life balance, while not attributed to the guidance directly of managers – ultimately the sole individuals whose opinions are valued – can be moulded and influenced by even the most casual conversation and insight. In many respects replicative of the ‘super coach’ trend in present professional male tennis ranks – comprising former Grand Slam champions Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Goran Ivanišević, Michael Chang and Carlos Moyá – the mere presence of greatness, eliciting immediate admiration, alongside comprehensive managerial aptitude, can elevate playing standards irrelevant to any fallacies of coincidence. An intrinsic and fundamental psychological onus manifests in such circumstances on performing for those who earn your respect, rather than demanding it, amidst the holy managerial trinity; defined and rational tactical innovation, inimitably perceptive player development and the stimulation of existential value.
Inevitably, however, when employing such heralded profiles, sacrifices are demanded of the directors and executives mired in such decision. Regardless of the extensive fees accrued in gilded playing careers, multiple league, continental competition and potentially world victors are likely to demand extortion to appropriately unprecedented standards, with a cultivated cultural adoption of agents – even progressively ‘super-agents’ including Mino Raiola, Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett, Pini Zahavi and Kia Joorabchian – as the true dictators to utmost power in managerial respects, complementing their players’ stranglehold. Expenses not without potential economic reward, certain quarters may contend, as the rapport established during formative careers transfers to more dignified, yet still immoral exploitation of reputation to the profit of both individual and institution. The regaling romanticism and global interest cajoled from what, at this stage, remains a decidedly left-field appointment option – yet which could quickly evolve into a societal norm, requiring systemic cultural adaptation is enacted – is destined to deliver the prospect tabloids have been attempting to elicit for successive seasons now; sensationalist vessels, in this case subservient pundits, assuming office to implement the constitutional revolution these forms demand in the midst of an apparently unacceptable run of poor form.
This entirely differs from the FA’s interpretation of their programme’s potential success, however. Demands clash, and these reformed ex-professionals will be drawn into conflict between their duty to the improvement of coaching standards, and their career stability criticising those in the very position their employment could have been realised. Loyalties are examined when circumstances reach such an introspective stage, and for the fortunes of the FA in pursuing global inclinations, only one decision can prove ethically justifiable. Personality must be sacrificed to a certain degree for employment in this industry to prove viable, as credibility and substance are in the self-preserving broadcasting sector, and critically the deductions of an individual’s values can be revealed in this impasse. Not a career-jeopardising alteration if conducted in this circumstance, but one that can drastically contort routine and subsequent personality projections.
Yet this is by no means an argument to the derision of largely self-made helmsmen. Defying the stereotype of humble pragmatism within exasperating constraints, and despite never having played a senior professional match, Julian Nagelsmann and Maurizio Sarri – of Hoffenheim and Napoli respectively – are two of the most rousing modern tacticians, yet for the benefit of the sport – neither, after all, has achieved significant decoration to date – a greater scope and depth of prior playing experience in coaching ranks can prove little other than beneficial. Unless the alarming correlation between morally-silencing wage escalations, hierarchical protectionism and apparent post-retirement security, and the reluctance of a deafening majority to enrol into the profession, is dispelled, however, and we witness cultural redemption, those of Scholes’ scholarly ilk will evade the pivotal profession. As the culture of unparalleled economic liberty reaches hyperbolic excesses of self-gratification, either of two radical outlets could ensue; doldrums intensifying of the incapability to convince ex-elite intellects of the magnitude of management, or at the very least coaching, exploits, or the presently dominant class of gilded ex-internationals comprising a vaster sect as attempts at replication mount across clubs with the requisite ambition and resources for more of their prodigious quality. Regardless of potential cultural evolution, a broader composition of such all-encompassing playing careers desperately requires addressing in coaching programmes across the globe. The pinnacle of achievement in the sporting vacuum is, in the perspective of hopefully the majority involved, both accomplishment in physical performance and the subsequent transmission of accrued insight to successive generations; not just to the extent of a single individual, but an impact on the broader sport’s spectrum. While Dan Ashworth, amongst fellow visionaries – or at least the scarce intermittent bastions of administrative competency in a negligent establishment – has identified this, and is attempting to personally rectify the disparity, it remains such a vast cavity that resolution cannot be performed by a single commendable individual.
Intentions are only as successful as their course of action. For many retired ex-professionals, I fully accept, character or lifestyle predispositions may hinder their ability to coach successfully – and for a vast majority of managerial careers, inferiority will define their exploits in a moral recalibration never before experienced. To not be challenged in these pre-empted and cynical observations of the tribulations management entails, however, is intolerable in a culture straying increasingly from external reality. Whether football, in its elite industrial existence, is willing to compromise on its vaulted pedestal for exponents of physical prowess and salvage a managerial subsect from the deliverance of mediocrity, however, is doubtful. Culture, in its all-encompassing form, cannot alter when only desired so; evident resolutions must be adopted in legislative procedure – a process in which a trust deficiency currently dictates throughout the game. Such, unfortunately, are the disenchantments of modern sport.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!