What do football managers need to succeed today?
One of the most common catchphrases is that, in life, they say it isn’t what you know, but who you know that determines how far you get.
In the modern era, it seems the same may apply to football in most circumstances. Traditionally, former players have progressed into first coaching, and then management roles. Perhaps the most famous example of modern times is Sir Alex Ferguson, who played and then managed in Scotland, before earning a big move to Manchester United.
As with anything, the more commodotised an industry becomes, ambitious entities expend to get ahead. As a result, there is high expectancy for a return on investment, especially in football, and increasingly with foreign owners in the Premier League.
When money first started to be ploughed into the game, taking Chelsea as a prime example, it was easy to attract top players, at least domestically. The sell was financial reward. Blues manager at the time Claudio Ranieri, however, couldn’t win silverware that owner Roman Abramovich both demanded and desired, and was ultimately released of his duties. A relatively unknown quantity by the name of Jose Mourinho was subsequently appointed. He had just guided Porto to a shock Champions League victory, beating Manchester United at Old Trafford along the way.
Abramovich had found his man. Declaring himself as “the Special One”, and claiming he would win the league in his first season, it had members of the press comparing him to controversial character, and former legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough. Mourinho’s ability to capture a room with his one-liners and outlandish claims, he also possessed a charisma and aura that was instantly infectious.
One factor that was defining about “the Special One”, is that his players adored him. Mourinho will be the first to admit that he didn’t have the most long-lasting playing career. Following in the footsteps of his international cap goalkeeper father, Mourinho junior lacked the requisite pace and power to make it professionally. Graduating in sports science, with a particular proclivity for coaching combining motivational and psychological techniques, as well as supreme attention to detail. He was quickly snapped up by Bobby Robson who was looking for, first and foremost, a local translator while at Sporting Lisbon. The two went on to form a fruitful formation within the coaching hierarchy. It proved to be the start of a glorious relationship; Mourinho continuing his development as a coach and honing his skills as a meticulous opposition scout. They won silverware at Porto and Barcelona, before Robson departed, leaving the now assistant manager to further himself under new boss Louis van Gaal, with the duo winning back-to-back titles.
In a nutshell, Mourinho came from the bottom, committing the best part of 20 years to learning the game inside out, before going out on his own. When he did, he was perhaps more equipped than any modern day professional. Subsequently, his record speaks for itself.
By contrast, Pep Guardiola represents a type of football manager, who perhaps is an exception to the rules of former players that have made top coaches. He could quite competently challenge Mourinho from the other side of the fence, when it comes to honours won. Maybe luckily for Guardiola, he played for one of the best clubs in the world, ironically while Mourinho was assistant coach at Barcelona.
Having studied the game around the globe after retirement, Guardiola took over from Frank Rijkaard at the club he was adored at as a player and implemented perhaps the best passing game football has seen, utilising Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to full effect. When Mourinho took the helm at Real Madrid having won the treble at Inter Milan, beating Guardiola’s Barca in the semi-final, he established a rivalry with his former student.
Nowadays, it seems, whether football clubs have money or not, it is the manager they have that determines their final decision. People buy from people, and the likes of Mourinho with his ability for getting the best out of players, charisma and magnetism, and Arsene Wenger for his astute awareness, and football intelligence are a huge draw.
Recently, in pre-season Tony Pulis parted company with Crystal Palace, after reportedly becoming frustrated at players not wanting to join the club. Meanwhile, at Stoke City, former Manchester United player Mark Hughes managed to attract Bojan Krkic from Barcelona. It raises the big suggestion that a name is everything today in football management.