MAdolescents devise training sessions, draw up complex tactical plans, manage multi – million pound budgets, ask challenging questions from the world press, take on the pressure of club fans – and yet, when it comes to managing people, some of them struggle. Why? Because relationships are complicated.
Players have unique personalities, shaped by their unique youth, and have egos and fans. The best managers find the right balance between being tough on players and sensitive to their needs. “The hardest thing about management is dealing with different personalities,” says former Brighton manager Micky Adams, who led the club to successive promotions at the turn of the century.
“You have to find out what ticks them. I see a lot of managers losing their jobs because they can’t create those personal relationships. You have to understand the feelings and weaknesses of the players and show empathy, but also taste and demand the highest standards from them.
“When I played, it didn’t bother me if a manager came up to me and told me I was crap. My answer would be: ‘I will prove you wrong and show you that I am not.’ That’s going out in the game now because you need to reinforce the modern player how good they are all the time. Whatever era you are talking about, one thing does not change – you need the support of the characters that run the dressing room. Without them, you are in trouble. “
The characters are often the leaders and winners of games. Managers use a variety of techniques to galvanize their lieutenants. The hand around the shoulder was Harry Redknapp’s approach. This makes sense for the layman. You encourage the player with suggestions and give them free off the pitch, just as long as they deliver it. The maverick players who used this method were Paolo Di Canio, Rafael van der Vaart and Paul Merson.
During the 2002-03 season, Merson told Redknapp that he had to check into Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic for his drinking and gambling issues, but instead flew to Barbados on vacation. Merson thought he had succeeded until he ran into one of Redknapp’s best friends. Instead of punishing his captain, the Portsmouth manager turned a blind eye to him. Merson scored 12 points when the club won the league and was promoted to the Premier League. “I came back, so tanning – it was January,” says Merson. “It simply came to our notice then. He didn’t say a word about it and he told me two years later. ”
Jürgen Klopp fostered almost religious devotion from his players by creating a truly intimate relationship. By being tactile and showing genuine interest in his life, he has built confidence and a connection that has helped the team win major championships and win the Champions League and the Premier League.
Gini Wijnaldum, one of the key players in those victories, snorted at Tottenham in favor of Liverpool after a conversation with Klopp. “I had great conversations with [Mauricio] Pochettino and Klopp, ”he said in 2016.“ But in the meeting with Jürgen, we laughed and talked only about football. He was interested in my personal life and that was good for me. He was not only interested in the Wijnaldum of the footballer, but in the human Wijnaldum.
“When you’re not out on the football pitch, you have to communicate as human beings and it’s a good thing if you know something about how the other person is. It makes things easier. Every training session we do is to improve you as a player. That’s different from what I had before and I’m very happy with it. The manager gives you confidence. He is not a manager who shouts at you or makes you angry when you make a mistake. He will only go mad if you do not do what you are good at. ”
Professor Sophia Jowett of Loughborough University has distilled this approach into a framework entitled the 3 + 1Cs: proximity, commitment, complementarity and alignment. Wijnaldum’s account outlines personal data sharing (proximity), challenging training sessions (commitment), a similar outlook on life (complementarity and orientation) and strong lines of communication. After speaking to a series of mentors and mentors, she found that these four elements create a “positive, effective and harmonious” relationship that can “provide a platform from which weaknesses and needs can be articulated, and where goals and objectives can be set. to achieve. ”
And, in theory, Klopp hugs do more than turn off their recipients. The brain releases the “cuddle” or “love” of the hormone oxytocin when people are in each other ‘s touch or have a social connection. When Klopp wraps his arms around a player, he is activating a feeling good hormone in the body.
This does not work for everyone. When you examine Steven Gerrard’s achievements about Rafa Benítez – winning the FA Cup and Champions League, and voting footballer of the year players and writers of the year – you could be forgiven for thinking they were close. In fact, they were just anything. Gerrard says Benítez’s “chic” was the best because he was “hungry” for praise.
“I can pick up the phone and talk to all of my previous Liverpool managers, except Rafa,” Gerrard wrote in his autobiography. “It’s a shame we shared the biggest night of our careers – the 2005 Champions League victory in Istanbul – but we have nothing to do. On a basic human level, I would prefer a charming manager, like Gérard Houllier or Brendan Rodgers, but in football terms I do not mind working with a colder man. Sometimes emotional and distant relationships with the likes of Rafa Benítez and Fabio Capello are even more successful. ”
Jon Stead from Mark Hughes took a similar approach when they worked together at Blackburn in the 2004-05 season. Stead got off to a great start at Ewood Park, scoring six points in 13 games under Graeme Souness. When Hughes replaced Souness, Stead suffered. “Mark Hughes was not a bad character, but I could not read him,” Stead recalls.
“I want an honest open manager. When I don’t know what they’re up to or when I can’t get direct answers, it strikes my mind and causes me problems. ” Hughes had personally watched Alex Ferguson’s mind games in the dressing room but, if he wanted to provoke a response from Stead, it did not work. The striker scored just two points in 36 games under the Welshman.
Ferguson had much more success in making feats out of his most talented and strongest players. He focused the dressing room ransack on certain players to elevate the rest of the team. “I always had a great relationship with the manager but there were times in most games at half time when I and the manager were on top of each other,” says Wayne Rooney. “He knew, by doing that to me, that he was sending a message to the other players. He did it with Giggsy as well. Always after the game, maybe the manager would walk down to the bus and give me a slap on the back of the head. It was his way of saying: ‘That’s over’ ”
Former Brighton leader Adams used a similar technique to inspire headliner Danny Cullip during their time together. “I used to face the team with my back to Danny and talk about defenders,” Adams recalls. “I would say: ‘Listen boys, we will have to score four points here to win this game because these defenders cannot be relied upon.’ I would insult him without conflict, but he used to digest that when I picked him up and he would set fire to it. ”
Ignoring key squad members is one of many tactics used by José Mourinho. John Terry received mixed messages from the manager. Mourinho would praise his captain, which would make him “10 feet tall” but when Terry was injured the manager would empty him, prompting Terry to work harder so he could get back on the field faster.
“If you knocked and missed a training day, he would come in and not talk to you. He walked straight past you on the treatment table, ”said Terry. “You are sitting there, captain of the football club, and you are looking for a tall five with the warrior – and you will not find him, he promises you. He says to the viz while you are there: ‘How long?’ And the physio will go: ‘A few days.’ And he would just walk away. He encouraged me and pushed my buttons. ”
While Benítez, Ferguson and Mourinho’s approach differ, they are all designed with the same purpose, says sports psychologist Dan Abrahams. “They are creating an environment of high challenge and high expectations,” explains Abrahams, who works with Premier League players and English rugby club staff.
“By its very nature, a culture can create a confrontational challenge and this is certainly the case when you look at parts of Mourinho’s career. They tell the squad: ‘This is the gameplan and my philosophy. You do it or you do not. If you do not, you are out. ‘ It’s a high – risk approach for today’s players – they can retire after two or three years. It is very difficult to have both high challenge and high support. The spot is sweet between the two. Having worked with Eddie Jones and English rugby, I know he has had to tweak his approach to help him understand everyone’s individual needs. ”
Talent within a squad plays a significant role in the success of the manager but, crucially, their ability unlocks a player’s commitment to the potential of the team. There is no blueprint for creating the perfect band. Every player-manager relationship requires a tailor-made plan and, even then, external influences can ruin the configuration.
To ensure long-term success, managers need to be flexible and adapt to changing attitudes in society, but this does not necessarily ensure long-term relationships. Given what is at stake – three points, huge sums of money and personal reputation – conflicts are inevitable. It will not be all high-five and trophy presentation. The intensity of these bands can lead to burn out. In that sense they are more like marriages than friendship: you may not always like each other but there must be understanding and commitment to a cause that is outside the agenda of self – service.
As Adams explains, however, the best players are willing to enter into this marriage if you give them success. “Don’t think that everyone likes the manager, because that’s not how it works,” he says. “The players have to believe in you and what you do will pay off. I must have been right somewhere down the line because I had four promotions. Now, did I like them? I’m not sure they did. But I guarantee they respected me. ”