Monday, 10 May 2010

Good Players Don't Always Make Good Managers


Some years ago, Brian Clough gave an interview to the BBC’s Garry Richardson, in which he said, “You’re a good interviewer... you might even be the best. But if I put you behind that camera, you probably wouldn’t know where to start.”

Cloughie made an important point, and it’s one for which every Premier League chairman should take heed (and a few broadcasting executives, but Jonny’s already written about that!)

A person’s ability as a player proves absolutely nothing about their suitability to manage a big club. Sir Bobby Charlton wasn’t cut out for management, and there are plenty of other world-class players who haven’t made the grade once they’ve hung up their boots.

When Mark Hughes was appointed Wales’s manager, I was among those who felt putting someone with no managerial experience in such a big position was like taking a gamble that would put even Mike Ashley to shame.

We knew absolutely nothing about whether he was cut out for management, and to this day, I think my fears were justified. No Wales fan will ever forget that day in late 2002 when we beat Italy at the Millennium Stadium. But before and after that famous victory, there was some absolute dross from the team, and his win ratio was less than 30%.

In club management, he got Blackburn playing some decent football, and Manchester City have looked reasonable on occasions since he took over, but the fact remains he hasn’t got a single significant achievement to his name nearly a decade after he started at Wales.

There have been a number of ex-players who were given their first crack at management at the highest level, only for it to end in disaster, but so many Premier League chairmen don’t seem to be getting the message.

On the other side of the coin, some pretty unremarkable players turn out to be world-class managers. Okay, so Sir Alex played at a high level in Scotland, but can anyone tell me anything (without cheating) about the playing records of Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez or Jose Mourinho? All three retired very early from playing, served their apprenticeships and took low-level jobs in management.

To give an English example, Roy Hodgson played very little first-team football, yet he commands an enormous amount of respect as a manager, and will no doubt build on his success at Fulham.

This is exactly my point. Aside from being an ex-sportsman who fancies a career in the media, can anybody think of any other walk of life where you can take your first job at the very top of your chosen profession?

In normal life, you are either expected to gain some sort of qualification, or start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. Why should football management be any different? Premier League chairmen should realise there are plenty of promising young managers in the lower leagues who deserve the opportunity to prove themselves at a higher level. Most weren’t big names as players, but have made the best of the limited resources they’ve been given to work with. These people deserve a chance of working with limited resources in the big league.

Giving a managerial novice a job in the Premier League isn’t fair on him either, no matter how good he was as a player. Gareth Southgate has learnt his trade in the full glare of the national media, with his every mistake scrutinised in front of the whole country. He may yet prove to be a good manager, but surely it would have been better for him to learn the ropes at a smaller club, where only a few thousand diehard supporters would be on his back.

So things didn’t work out for Paul Ince at Blackburn, but that doesn’t make him a bad manager. Maybe he needed more time. Another person who has followed the “proper route” and has genuinely earned the right to manage a relatively big club is Nigel Clough. Don’t get me wrong, I very much doubt the thought of appointing the current manager of Burton Albion would’ve occurred to anyone on the board at Derby had it not been for his father’s legacy.

That’s not to say Clough Jnr doesn’t fully deserve a crack at the (fairly) big-time. He has already led Burton to one promotion and would probably have got them into the Football League if he’d stayed put.

There’s a chance his father’s remarkable achievements at Derby all those years ago may hang like a noose around his neck, and the weight of expectation could prove too high. But a far more likely scenario is that he’ll adopt similar principles to those he applied successfully at Burton and lead Derby back into the Premier League within a few seasons.

It’s a pity many others with managerial CV’s similar to his aren’t given a chance.

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