Saturday 25 February 2017

You can't beat a good coach -- once he's not a threat

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

T here are few things more enjoyable than playing football professionally. Every day, for a relatively short length of time, you get to do what you most want to do.

That's the way it's meant to be, but you'd be surprised at how easily a coach can ruin things. Following the sacking of Ray Wilkins at Chelsea and the appointment last week of Steve Clarke at Liverpool, there has been much discussion as to what exactly a first-team coach does. Clarke is renowned for his innovative training sessions and has been a trusted and much-respected figure among the players wherever he's gone.

The role of a first-team coach is fairly ambiguous. I worked with some who, because of their relationship with the manager at the time, were little more than cone-carrying assistants who collected the balls after training finished. There were others who merely took charge of the warm-up and warm-down each day, and took part in training when the teams needed to be evened up. They took care of the water bottles too.

In many cases, the coach's input can be determined by how secure the manager feels in his own position and whether the coach is perceived to be a threat. There are countless examples of roles being filled as a result of promoting from within, so this is never too far from the minds of those in charge. Sam Allardyce appears to be the most recent victim of such a policy. It may be difficult for some to understand, but not every manager is comfortable working with an excellent number two.

The most impressive coach -- and person -- I ever encountered during my career was Kenny Dalglish's former assistant at Blackburn Rovers, Ray Harford. Regarded by all he worked with as an outstanding coach, he had relatively unsuccessful stints as a manager, most notably at Blackburn following Dalglish's decision to quit. If there was ever a discussion after that on how coaching and management were two different roles requiring completely different skills, he was always the example given.

During my time working with him, training each day was more enjoyable than it had ever been. He knew a vast number of drills and games to help develop every part of our play, and delivered his message in a way we could all understand. He worked very well with the manager at the time and was affectionately referred to as 'Uncle Ray' by many of us. He stepped down from his role due to illness and his departure was as much of an upheaval as that of any manager who had left before him. Every player willing to work improved considerably, and every one of us knew it was down to his input.

Coaches don't get credited, or blamed, for results, but if given the freedom to work as they wish, they are often the only voice to be heard during training. Whether the manager is looking on from the sidelines or not, the success of the session is down to the coach. If mistakes are being made each weekend, he'll spend all week working to eradicate them. It's as important a role as the manager in many ways, but also incredibly different.

As Ray and many others would learn over time, your ability as a coach has little bearing on your chances of making it as a boss. The demands of each are so varied. So too is the relationship each role permits you to have with the players.

Coaches don't pick the team so players don't feel the need to resent their judgement. Coaches don't hand

out fines, turn down transfer requests, refuse to offer new contracts or make substitutions. Whether they have an input or not into each decision, coaches never get blamed by players for decisions that go against them. That's why players are often closer to the coaching staff than they could ever be to the manager. Anyway, you never get slagged by team-mates for attempting to befriend the coach. Try doing that with the boss and you'll be ripped to shreds in the dressing room straight away.

Steve Clarke knows it will take a lot more than original training drills and a trustworthy manner to transform Liverpool's fortunes, but his input will be as significant as that of Dalglish. Enjoying the support of the board, the respect of the players, and the love of the crowd, Dalglish has handed the role of improving the performances of his squad to the man who coached Chelsea to two titles under Jose Mourinho.

Dalglish's greatest success in management came at a time when training consisted of five-a-side games every day. His team passed, and they moved, and more often than not they won. The game has changed a lot since then. Unfortunately for him, so too has the standard of players at his disposal.

rsadlier@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport

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