Football, a reverent fuel for reminiscence, often finds itself revolving around, if not pandering to, mutually settled epochs. One seldom articulated fact – a legacy, and miscomprehension, of the journalist’s day-to-day immediacy to player, manager and club, case in point All or Nothing: Manchester City – of ours, is the redefined parameters for the coach; or indeed the manager, however personal, and recurrently legal, phraseology demands.
Where once the custodians of player development, and little else, now the responsibilities of club bosses fall into three distinct categories; the erudite tactician, the financially-savvy diplomat and the PR expert. And the differentiation has had profound impacts on the international and domestic stratums of the sport, unrelenting even today.
The transition to this great aim came in the 1960s – this much, we can resolve. It came with the downfall of Gusztáv Sebes’ Aranycsapat – the ‘Mighty Magyars’ – and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The unofficial ignominy of the Puskás, Hidegkuti and Kocsis-led side was, of course, the failure to deliver the 1954 World Cup when universally favoured, resulting in the failure of any Communist nation to – yet (the safe money’s on North Korea in Qatar, everyone) – lift the Jules Rimet, or, in its slavishly reconstituted form, FIFA World Cup Trophy.
A trade union organiser, in the 1930s, at Renault’s Paris factories, and later instrumental in making the case for socialism in wartime Hungarian workplaces, Sebes was no political shrinking violet, and his ideological loyalty was rewarded just months after the foundation of the national Communist government; appointed Deputy Minister of Sport in 1949, in addition to sole manager of the national team. Remembered, in various later accounts, as undyingly principled in every area of his work, Sebes – and his role in the revolution of Hungarian domestic football – recalled the practical aspects that drove (fascist) Austrian and (fascist) Italian fortunes in the 1930s, alongside testaments to Stalinist greatness; the domination of domestic football by two competing powers, the eradication of right-wing, or bourgeois, clubs to be reclaimed under a secret police or armed forces guise, the construction of pantheons of sport, chiefly the Népstadion (People’s Stadium), and the organisation of unprecedented scouting networks, training programmes and tactical adjournments.
Sebes’ science, coupled with revolutionary momentum – slowing with Stalin’s 1953 death, and only evolving into spite for the subsequently thrashed English – incited many future imitations, each more sycophantic than the last. Innovation was never as rife in any Communist state as in the opening months and years of the Budapester’s uncompromising revolution. Nor could it have been; nationalist sentiments resonated throughout the life of an uneasy Yugoslav fraternity, the USSR, three decades beyond the innocence of coups, preoccupied by genuine social issues, and Czechoslovakia isolated, openly undemocratic and prone to perpetual economic downturn – even if vastly uncredited for their run to the 1962 World Cup Final.
Courted by every American President from Kennedy to Reagan, the East vs West rhetoric that transcended a space race, an arms race, walls both metaphorical and uncompromisingly literal, a stand-off in the mid-Caribbean, multiple military insurgencies in Central America, South-East Asia and eventually Afghanistan, and the eventual constitutional dissolution of the former, held high esteem in FIFA’s lavish quadrennial events. In spite of what subsequent American archivists may tell you, there was every reason for the US to be capable of rivalling their Soviet antagonists in ‘soccer’, in addition to their titanic post-war Olympic tussle (Uncle Sam reaching the top of the medals table in 1952, ’64, ’68 and the Communist-boycotted LA ’84, while second to the USSR on all remaining occasions, but Montreal ’76 and Seoul ’88, when finishing behind even East Germany in third).
Western sentiment would have the bilateral disparity in the same breath as the ‘Miracle on Ice’ – another area of contention in sporting favour, as the Lake Placid crowd, and President Carter’s embargo on the Moscow Summer Olympics later that year, politicised an occasion few in the Soviet Union recognised as demonstrably linked – but while the Americans eagerly invested in Jules Rimet’s globalist vision in 1930, reaching the semi-finals in Uruguay and taking political liberties when entering the 1934 competition (hosted in the pleasurable Signor Mussolini’s Italy) and 1936 Olympics (the jolly old Adolf Hitler’s summertime pageant), the Soviets were on hiatus. They had not entered the World Cup until 1958, where they first vanquished England – eight years earlier the casualties of American barbs – and christened the European Championships by bestowing on UEFA not only their presence in a four-team finals field, but also their glorious victory. A semi-final run at the 1966 World Cup further enhanced their reputation; the US, with businessmen as conscientious of providing a national team truly worthy of the inevitable three-syllable chants of gorged trailer park fans as they were keen to capitalise on unexpected domestic interest in the football showcased by palatial London, Eng-er-land, responded in 1967 with the consecration of the North American Soccer League (NASL). If the Soviets could bolster socialist indoctrination with the success of its homogenised, union-derived divisions, then the US could open the borders to ageing worldwide expertise; two-time Brazilian World Cup winner Vavá, former Argentine captain Rubén Navarro and prolific Busby Babes striker Dennis Viollet imported in the inaugural season.
The NASL typified the mood of the age. While socialist states dominated Olympic competition, the legacy of American Avery Brundage’s staunch defence of amateurism – and its loose taxonomies – as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President from 1952 to 1972 wore heavy, and the FIFA Presidential elections of 1974 offered a prime chance to cast football into the arms of the globalised, and indeed commercialised, by opting for the mercurial legal adviser and former Brazilian Olympian João Havelange over Suffolk’s own Stanley Rous, the custodian of the post for the 12 years prior. Pelé, an erstwhile advertising executive for Puma at the 1970 World Cup, was hired as Havelange’s lobbying pawn, and a year later transferred to the New York Cosmos, earning a landmark annual $1.4 million salary. Sports promoter Patrick Nally, who had revolutionised English sport with snooker’s Masters, the World Squash Championships and cricket’s One-Day Cup. brokered deals for Adidas and Coca-Cola, bastions of capitalist economics, to become commercial partners of FIFA. Suddenly, from an age where fans were one with the nation, and one with their club, these lifelong, local supporters were degraded to the status of mere consumers. The West would proclaim this as the killer blow to communism; those who experienced dissolution first-hand would stickle for that point. When capitalism no longer had a sister, a shadow, a sparring partner, it turned on itself; rampant self-preservation would suffice.
The ball (1970’s Telstar the enduring image), the boot (Puma vs Adidas), the kit (soon Nike’s domain, even for the Russian team in 2002); all became prone to experimentation, stylistically, though often under the pretence of efficiency. Those who paraded them, the players, were elevated as commodities also. Who fell out of vogue? Those unacquainted with the upheaval, rare to promote personal ideology, impossible as images of aesthetic admiration; the managers.
Today, their identity is unquestioned. Figures for vilification, panned by press in a relationship only comparable to Presidents; the punchbags of governments, of parties, and of their people. The typecast could be said to correlate to American politics, yet if terms lasted even half of Gerald Ford’s feat in modern terms, debates would not be apparent. In 1974, the very year Ford ascended the throne, even England – the everlasting patrons, the hubristic proponents, of the international game – surrendered their place amongst the natural elite, and kowtowed to the blessing of club football; with Sir Alf Ramsey kneeling, the FA invested in the since-unfounded repute of a domestic titan, Leeds United’s Don Revie. After Revie – Bobby Robson aside – they dare not even promote the finest of domestic managerial talent; in Ron Greenwood the last embers of the West Ham nucleus died, and with Graham Taylor, Terry Venables and Kevin Keegan the best they could muster were also-rans.
Where the finest coaching talent did steer clear of saturated temporality, was South America. Culturally, the national team continued to predominate all, as the Brazil-Argentina duumvirate lifted the 1958, ’62, ’70, ’78, ’86 and ’94 titles. Their greatness had adapted, but soon would ebb away – the tide of capitalism too heavy to consistently stem. It is no coincidence, given also the history of nations thriving at home tournaments, that every single pre-2000 tournament the continent failed to win, and before 1990 also failed to appear in the final of, were held on the specific shores of Western Europe. Redemption was offered in 2014; ‘Big Phil’ Scolari the ideal candidate, but the most devastating defeat in history ripped through the state.
Romance, essentially, still presides over South American youth development. As famed by social media, Gabriel Jesus painted the favelas of São Paolo, Paulinho, another paulistano, began his senior career in Lithuania, so low were his prospects, but others born of the city – Neymar, Willian, Casemiro, Marquinhos – were more fortunate, winning academy places before entering their teens. Some prodigies slip through the gaps; the scouting programme is not yet fully refined, or more to the point financially sustained, to wield total power.
Youth coaching, as evident in Jesus’ career, is not always the best prescription for developing humans, let alone aspiring footballers. It is, however, becoming revealingly rare to witness the appeal of undiscovered, or indeed late, talents grasp the upper echelons today. It is a conscientious conservatism in the minds of all club recruitment teams that dictates this; striving more so for efficiency, at least in terms of individuals, if not funds, than was, in recent history, before thought necessary. In regard to senior squad operations, Burnley and Tottenham are just two such case studies in the Premier League, Real Betis, Celta Vigo and Eibar in Spain, etc. It is a sustainable niche, but overall progression is yet to become evident.
Where in one job a manager’s chief strife may be budget control then, the market may have gone full circle. The coach is asked to eke out every bead of sweat possible from his remaining squad members, and the dreaded buzz words of the profession today grab hold: fixated around the singular male pronoun and the verb, to create order and show leadership. Indeed, the false prophecy of ‘man management’. Beyond the ability to act out, at least semi-comprehensively, a relationship of mutual dignity with fellow club employees and media, the phrase amounts to little.
While delegation rules, the expression is obsolete, a disguise for the patronising and a myth to all others. It is not great ‘man management’ that has allowed Pep Guardiola to win a Premier League title at a canter with Fabian Delph at full-back, Jürgen Klopp to mould Mohammed Salah in a role indicative of the high-pressing, space-creating, offensively flourishing vogue of recent times, nor Maurizio Sarri to nurture an ideal box-to-box midfielder in N’Golo Kanté. Unorthodox tactical judgements are integral to breaking erstwhile hegemonies, a certainty which has persisted throughout the sport’s competitive history, but seldom are they presently inspired by managers themselves, more by necessity.
And so enters the youth coach. Once the profession, alongside professional scouts, of the misspent and the rejected – offcuts from senior responsibilities – their methods were unmodified, their language and discipline unreliable. From the dark ages of the 1970s, 80s and 90s for English football, some have since been revealed as the perpetrators of significant atrocities in the lives of many young hopefuls, exploiting their position and the trust invested in them. Much has changed.
Youth coaches are now, proportionally, the most lucrative employees in the entirety of the sport. Prize money and apprentice wages remain minimal, if gradually increasing – symptomatic of an industry and culture that believes itself to have cash to burn – yet academy directors, Under-21, U19, U18 through typically to U12 frameworks can all command comfortably above the average national wage, A quick search on Indeed.com can return the evidence: any aspiring Academy Video Analyst for League One side Peterborough United could receive a monthly salary of £4,160. These unnamed few combine responsibilities as guardians, essentially, but also identifiers and elevators of the best new talent, having to predict future tactical developments and adapt techniques to technological advances, at much faster rates than their senior counterparts. They share burdens in shielding teenagers from the prying eyes of the media, insistent on crowning the ‘next Lionel Messi’ (mystifyingly not Titus Bramble) and happier when their praise goes unfulfilled, allowing them to splash features of their downfall, falling out of a West End club, high on nitrous oxide at 3AM, rather than another back page of triumph and plaudits. They are the bridge between reality, continually indebted for their position as springboards, and the dizzying heights of professionalism into which their alumni will be flung. Few two paths are equivalent; take Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard’s, starting figures in England’s rapturously-received summer excursions, and the profiteers of scarcely comparable trajectories, with the former not yet 18 when he was awarded a first England cap by Roy Hodgson, while the latter was only primed two months before his 24th birthday.
Recognition for the youth coach has also proved an aspiration of the pioneering; rearing in the form of senior appointments for Daniel Farke, David Wagner and Warren Joyce– although it may be a stretch to add Zinedine Zidane, Gareth Southgate and Steven Gerrard to that list. As the unknown are elevated, so the aforementioned ex-international trio, amongst other esteemed company, represent the heralded reclaiming their own heritage; Gerrard began on the banks of the Mersey, Southgate in South London, Zidane in suburban Paris. Drifting away from senior roles to initiate and ground early managerial exploits is no evil; take heed, the ever-critical Paul Scholes.
Much of the ingenuity and tactical variety of the Bundesliga, – and its Austrian namesake – competing on limited budgets relative to those entering into the Premier League and La Liga, evokes tutelage amongst students, and the humble character-building that can follow; Freiburg’s Christian Streich, Werder Bremen’s Florian Kohfeldt, Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, Schalke’s Domenico Tedesco and Red Bull Salzburg’s Marco Rose, all astute professors of the youth grades, hailing from a diverse selection of professional set-ups. Amongst those they coached, senior internationals Martin Harnik, Dennis Aogo, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry, Jeremy Toljan and Joshua Kimmich, and former and present Under-21s Davie Selke, Maximilian and Johannes Eggestein, Nadiem Amiri and Philipp Ochs demonstrate the envy of youth coaching programmes the world over, purely from a technical perspective. The subsequent influx of British youth to the division, uneasy for some, is no mere coincidence.
Not only is the Bundesliga unburdened by continental expectation – Bayern, FC Hollywood, aside – that precedes (total) corporate submission, and resides in a more forgiving political domicile, but it is guided, if often hubristically, by a strident national team. Joachim Löw’s assistants, Baden-Württemberg natives Thomas Schneider and Marcus Sorg, hail from the youth ranks of inter-city rivals VfB Stuttgart and Stuttgart Kickers respectively, while the latter has taken roles with Freiburg, Bayern Munich. and now national under-17s and under-19s; not a move to placate any hollow niche, but to impart vital considerations, the potential oversights of a man 12 years into the job. An eye on reinventing an unstoppable machine, and a finger on the pulse of methods, whether scientific or psychological, is a great weapon in a manager’s armoury with the pace of development experienced today – whether resulting in a group stage World Cup exit or not.
There is no doubt that as the industry has grown, so has the need for devolution, for communication, and for compromise. Managers are more so the salesmen than the hands-on, boiler suit-donned, chain-smoking window cleaners of six decades prior, and their responsibilities have shifted far away from ever relating to the man on the street, he who stumps up £50 to say he was there. He was there when the title parade began, when the opposition fans were silenced, even in the ignominy of the cup exit. He is no closer to the mastermind behind it all, the showman protected by a temporary tunnel and isolated by his very mannerisms; directing his arms with the fury of a traffic warden on the Champs-Élysées, wearing the scars of defeat heavy on their drenched faces when cameras pan over, applauding fans and signing autographs. The veneer never repents, and the immortals return to their Hollywood star on a weekly basis, whether at your club or another.
How is a man who stood amongst few others, playing to echoing cavern after training ground, expected to adapt? Unless one inhabits the very guise of a two-time World Cup finalist – the goalscoring hero of one and the enduring image of the other despite discredit – a club legend or at the very least an occasionally trophy-winning figurehead, the feat is unanswerable. Forgery can be exposed as cruelly in this industry as in the communal courts of a revolutionary monocracy. Expose your humanity to an indoctrinated parish, and you will be banished from ever returning – beyond the wholly intended misery of a failed lower-league spell, of course.
There are notable exceptions. There is one, shall I say, not of the bottle. A special one, you may prefer. One who infiltrated these epithets without ever playing to a professional standard – a season under his father at Rio Ave aside – and without becoming entangled with the robes of one who does. An enigma, resultantly despised by the press. The chagrin of the two-time Champions League and three-time Premier League champion, orchestrated by an incessant vindictiveness from behind the parade of brand-embossed microphones, is heralded as José’s demise. Klopp and Sarri – fellow veterans, unarmoured by their modest professional records – are impervious at present to equal contempt; their tactics too far akin to Pep’s, and behaviour too far from erratic. The Portuguese is derided, despised for invading the journalist’s berth as working man’s correspondent. How can he possibly stand in front of the Stretford End and applaud with genuine emotion, in solidarity with the club’s loyalists? Truly inconceivable, incongruent with precondition. Their excuses for his failure to provide beyond a Europa League, League Cup and Community Shield overwhelm those, apparently, of his own creation; permanent residence in Salford’s Lowry Hotel, a series of unsubstantiated professional disputes with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marouane Fellaini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, resigned assistant Rui Faria and chief executive Ed Woodward, and the incompetence of the very latter of this list, recognised as an even greater antagonist of the Manchester United faithful, when the eternal fraudulent temptation of the tabloid – transfer rumours – so often amount to little. They do not proceed beyond boundaries of the trade, however. The environment has not changed, the manager remains archbishop of a morally deviant clergy, an outdated niche and gratuitous ritualism. It was an identical treatment to that served to former mentors Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.
In conservative, sullied English cultures, the norm appears hard to rival. The youth experiment is yet to bear fruit. As it is, the two professions are entirely incompatible; designed with different species in mind. And yet human fascination will seldom prevent us from the temptation – we’re different, we won’t be like the others, we’ve learned from their mistakes. One cannot fight a turning tide. We must wait for the waves to recede, and thoughts that the opportunity could come in England are few in number, depleting by the day, or rather by every defeat Farke or Wagner, initial pioneers, suffers. If a culture is to change, they must give it due reason. And the issue is wider than their cause. With Guardiola fined for his stance in the Catalan independence discourse, political suppression may ratchet. With Sean Dyche, Chris Hughton and Eddie Howe consolidated at mid-Premier League level and lauded for their honesty, the immoral may be eradicated. These clean-cut kids will preserve the new status quo for now, but they will be succeeded. The future continually awaits.
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!