Reading a football article recently, I was struck by a comment by Julian Nagelsman, currently the coach of the German national team.
“Coaching,” he said, “is 30% tactics and 70% man-management.” He should know. Previously he had been in charge at TSG Hoffenheim, RP Leipzig and Bayern Munich, enjoying success at all three clubs. That set me thinking. How did all the other famous football managers of years gone by define their roles?
Sir Alf Ramsey, who won the World Cup in 1966 with his team of ‘wingless wonders’ (he preferred attacking midfielders who could fulfil a dual role of attack and defence), commanded great respect and affection in the dressing room. Nobby Stiles later said he would run through a brick wall for him. Ramsey trusted his players to do what he wanted and did not seek to micro-manage them. After the final whistle of the final, which England won 4-2, he quietly withdrew from the limelight to let the players celebrate on their own. He just had a way in his dealings with international players, three of whom (Banks, Moore, Charlton) would have got into any World XI. You cannot fool people like that – at least not for very long. His achievement was to foster a club-like spirit in a collection of talented players from different clubs, with different skills and different personalities, to play together as a team.
Sir Matt Busby is regarded as one of the greatest football managers of all time. He built up the famous Busby Babes, so named because Busby had put his trust in youth rather thanexpensive recruits, and this Manchester United team was on the cusp of greatness when eight of them (as well as other staff and travelling journalists) were killed in the Munich air disaster in 1958. He himself was badly injured, not expected to survive, and twice was administered the last rites. He survived against all the odds but thereafter he remained greatly affected by what had happened and consumed with guilt at the loss of his ‘babes’. He built a second team, this time blending a judicious mixture of expensive signings (Law, Crerand, Stepney) with home-grown youth (Best, Kidd, Stiles). They rewarded him by winning the European Cup in 1968, the first English team to do so.
While recuperating from his injuries, team affairs were taken in hand by his assistant Jimmy Murphy. When Busby returned to the club, he wisely delegated tactics and training to Murphy, while he took overall control of the players, their comings and goings, becoming a much-loved father figure even to the older members of the side. He was another one who had an instinctive grasp of the importance of treating his players, even the great ones, as individuals and persuading them to play as a team.
Sir Alex Ferguson (another knight of the realm) was hewnfrom the same rock. He built not two but three title-winning teams at Manchester United and was noted for taking a keen interest in his players, not only on the pitch but in their personal lives too. Ryan Giggs tells an amusing story of when he was a youngster revving it up at a party, together with one or two other youth players. Ferguson turned up at the door, visibly fuming, and ordered his teenagers back home.Famously, he knew the names of everybody who worked at Old Trafford and took the trouble to be aware of all the personal trials and tribulations of every player’s family life, often providing help and advice, some of it not always welcomed, it has to be admitted. The point is that he saw himself not exclusively as a manager but also as a paternalfigure. Old Trafford was his home and his players his family. He could be authoritarian and those who stepped out of line (Strachan, Ince, McGrath, Ronaldo, Keane, Beckham) were soon sent on their way but, by and large, his former players always spoke fondly of him and remember his kindlier, more generous side. Increasingly as his managerial career progressed, he was seen less and less in a tracksuit taking training; he preferred to leave that to his coaching staff. He watched, assessed and plotted and everybody knew who made the final decisions. The list of Manchester United players of the Ferguson reign who have gone into management themselves is truly extraordinary (30), testament to his character, influence and leadership.
A change of sport…. A manager used not to be a recognised role in cricket. It was always the captain who ran the show. When the MCC were on tour, the appointed manager would busy himself with the logistical side of things, leaving cricket matters in the hands of the captain. Can you ever imagine anybody telling Douglas Jardine, Len Hutton, Peter May, Brian Close, Ray Illingworth or even Mike Brearley what team he should pick, whether he should bat first or not, or what field he should set for his spinners? Things are different now. The manager might be called a coach, but he has a much more hands-on role than hitherto. Some of them, I tend to believe, have involved themselves in tactics and stratagems and motivational tools rather too much. I was at Lord’s not so long ago, watching England play in a Test match. The England team had to have the obligatory huddle in the middle before the first ball was bowled – of course they did. It shows togetherness, united in a common goal, up for the fight, us against them. Though why they can’t do that five minutes before in the dressing room…. Anyway, it seemed to me there were more than eleven England players there. I counted. There were 24 people in that huddle. Quite possibly the coach driver and the dressing room attendant had been invited too. My point is that too much coaching, too much analysis, too much data, too much planning can rob the players of the ability to think on their feet. Good management surely embraces confidence in your team to perform as best they can.Too much control scrambles the brain and induces paranoia and emotional instability. Batting or bowling from the balcony never works.
That is why I agree wholeheartedly with the approach of Brendon McCullum to his role as the England coach. He has decluttered the backroom and freed up the players’ minds. He has set a definite tone in the dressing room (I’m not sure that ‘Bazball’ fits the bill; it’s a word he doesn’t like using), he has encouraged each individual to be himself and to play his natural game…. and above all, to enjoy the experience. Playing for England ought to be fun, not a cross to bear. Good management in a nutshell.
Of course, management is not the sole preserve of just sport. We encounter it in all walks of life, and it baffles me to the point of exasperation to run into inept or crass administration when examples of good management are in plain sight. We have all fallen foul of the stubborn jobsworth, the inflexible line manager, the insensitive boss, the heavy hand of bureaucracy. The terms and conditions rather than the customer. The regulation rather than the individual. An efficient manager obviously has to manage but not at the expense of the body of people that he or she is supposed to represent.
I have written two books – not about cricket, you will be surprised to hear – both about a leader who fully understood the concept of good management and who put his money where his mouth was – with strikingly successful results. Ian – later Lord – MacLaurin was, variously, chairman of Tesco, Vodafone and the England and Wales Cricket Board (amongst directorships of other companies). In each case, he left the organisation that he ran in a better state than he found it. I was intrigued in our many conversations by the secret of his success. He shook his head. “It’s not rocket science,” he told me, “The principle is very simple, though I grant you, not always easy to achieve.” First and foremost, he contended, you must have a vision, a clear idea in your mind in which direction you want to lead your team, your club, your business, your company, your government, your school even. Then you must surround yourself with people who buy into this plan and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve it. Once you have your loyal support team in place, you must delegate shrewdly and have the confidence that they will do what they are asked. A general cannot check every soldier’s rifle in the regiment. You have sergeants to see to that. “Furthermore,” he insisted, “never forget the name of the doorman or the lady on reception and always take the trouble to chat to them.”
As an example of how not to do it, Ian recounted this story. On his taking up the reins of English cricket, he came downstairs for breakfast at the hotel where the England team were staying. Nobody was about save the solitary figure of the England captain, Michael Atherton, quietly sipping his coffee.
“Mind if I sit down and join you, Captain?”
Atherton looked a little surprised but readily assented.
“Now, Michael, what can I do to make your job easier?”
Atherton took a deep breath.
“You know, Chairman… you are the first person on the board who has ever talked to me.”
“I was flabbergasted,” Ian recalled, “I made damn sure that things were going to change for the better.” And he did. The England team, slowly but surely, made their way up from the bottom of the Test rankings to the very top.
The second book – not yet published - is about the Morgan Sports Car. Now, I have no interest in cars at all; I do not know my big end from my back end. But this is not about engine size, transmission, catalytic converters, torque or revs per minute (whatever they are) but the people who make the car and how it became such a highly successful niche product. Clearly, they were doing something right. Peter Morgan, son of the founder HFS Morgan, had the ideas, designed the best models and together with his chief engineer, he supervised their building. In charge of sales was Derek Day, the main subject of the book, who provided the thread that runs through the narrative. He worked at the company as man and boy for 50 years, moving from tea maker and general dogsbody to taking a place on the board as sales director.
There are two points concerning the management of the company that I want to make. First, Peter Morgan had the dream, to design a beautiful sports car that was instantly recognisable and would become a must-have accessory to the rich and famous. With his genius and his enthusiasm, allied to an old-world courtesy and an implicit trust in the integrity of his workforce and his customers (everything at Morgan Motors was done on a handshake), he inspired loyalty and endeavour among his employees. For example, he always said, “One department I never have to worry about is sales. I just know Derek will do a fine job.” Thus, demonstrating trust and a shrewd judgement of character. Derek never let him down. Secondly, in a trickle-down process of his boss’smanagement skill, Derek made it his job every morning to walk around the factory to talk to every single man and woman, checking that all was well, and if it wasn’t, he would ask what he could do to help. “We were like one big happy family,” he told me, “Everybody knew his job and understood his importance in the greater scheme of things.” The principles remain the same, whether for a big company like Tesco or a small, family-run concern like Morgan Motors.
Last night, I went to see the play Dear England, live streamed from London, starring Joseph Fiennes as the England manager, Gareth Southgate. It really wasn’t about football but how Southgate re-invented the role of England manager. He couldn’t understand why world-class players seemed diminished whenever they pulled on the white shirt, to the extent that they didn’t enjoy the experience and even feigned injury to escape the torment. He set about dismantling that culture and instead started to create a club-like atmosphere, a sense of comradeship. Both manager and players were in this together, he insisted. For example, they were to not call him ‘boss’ or ‘gaffer’ or even ‘sir’. Plain Gareth would do. He made them mix at mealtimes instead of sitting on separate tables with their club team-mates. He got them to take ownership of their performances and to gel as a team, not as a collection of individuals. They are all good players; they wouldn’t get selected if they weren’t, he contended. Let them relax, support each other, and trust them to express themselves as only they know how. Above all, he argued, let us create an environment in which they can enjoy the privilege of representing their country. He even brought on board to the coaching team a psychologist, a woman to boot. Brave, revolutionary, risky in an alpha-male environment…but it seemed to work. Gradually, trust was forged, results improved, and England started to play with a smile on their faces. If that isn’t good management writ large, I don’t know what is.
Mind you, he has yet to find a cure for the English curse of penalties.