Friday 20 April 2018

Brian Kerr: Managerial rock gods call the tune

Title race will be influenced by who remains most calm and collected amidst turmoil as pressure on bosses intensifies

'Insomnia doesn’t make you a better manager. Clarity of decision-making and using your players better than anyone else gives you the edge.'
'Insomnia doesn’t make you a better manager. Clarity of decision-making and using your players better than anyone else gives you the edge.'

Brian Kerr

Before my dreams of becoming a football manager were fulfilled, I often wondered what it would have been like to be Rory Gallagher.

Rory seemed to have it all under control. He'd come out, shyly, almost humbly, greet the audience with a few words and then always deliver the most exhilarating performance - to my eyes.

His band would be completely in sync. His preparation would always be consummate in its detail. And the end result would always be predictable. The adrenalin rush after every gig unchanging.

No refereeing decisions to complain about. No interfering chairman or owners. No inconvenient opposition to mess with your plans. No last-minute own goals. Everything under control.

Football managers are constantly seeking that adrenalin rush, that immediate high when a positive result seems, in that perfect moment, to be all down to your efforts. Nothing else is as satisfying as that feeling.

It doesn't last. Even in the immediate aftermath of a win, you quickly have to cede credit to the players and your staff and the people who pay your wages. Except for Jose Mourinho, who seems to do it all himself.

In the press, you must defer to your team and answer all those annoying questions when you really just want to wallow in the moment. And then comes the realisation you have to start again the next morning and plan ahead to the next match.


But that momentary rush is why managers do it. It is such a high and that's why so many are addicted to the drug, why they keep getting back into it even though the highs are so infrequent for most and the lows are so debilitating.

In the modern era, the managers are the rock gods, and so much of this season's title race will be decided by how they react to the pressures and how the outside world perceives they are responding under duress.

From Jurgen Klopp complaining about a free-kick against Sunderland or Arsene Wenger outlining his frustration at having to play twice in two days or Mourinho giving out about everything.

That pressure is compounded by the fact that, notwithstanding Wednesday's result, Chelsea have maintained such an imposing pace at the head of affairs under a manager who seems, for now at least, to be utterly composed and master of all he surveys.

We shall see. For now, the pressure is heaped upon those trailing in his wake, with their every move magnified by the modern media microscope.

We are fascinated because, while we are intimate with the workings of Mourinho and Wenger, the newer arrivals like Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte are unshaped by the culture and temperament of the unique challenges of the English game.

Some handle it better than others. Klopp has always seemed to be in control of himself. Inside, I'm sure he raged at Bayern Munich's ability to snatch away his best players at Borussia Dortmund but to the outside he remained sanguine.

An abiding image is of him after the Champions League final defeat to that same Munich nemesis.

Not only did he applaud the Dortmund fans who had travelled to London in vain, he also went to the other end and saluted the Munich fans.

The other day against Sunderland, after the late award of a free-kick, ultimately leading to the penalty that denied his side all three points, he must have been steaming.

But he still managed to shake hands with Jermain Defoe (pictured right), the goalscorer, and Sunderland's outstanding goalkeeper Vito Mannone straight after the final whistle.

Taking three points from City, as they had done against Chelsea, was more vital than dropping two to Sunderland and he knows that.

He is in command of his emotions and that is important. And he understands and embraces the English culture even if justifiably annoyed over his club's unfair festive schedule.

Guardiola is a different kettle of fish. He cried foul at Ben Mee's goal for Burnley against his side, claiming that it would not have been given anywhere else in the world, but that is the point.

In England, goals like that are given. What did he expect? A genteel opposition defender to lay a bouquet of flowers behind the goal? This is the English culture and it shows a lack of football intelligence and respect to acknowledge that difference.

We get fed Guardiola and his obsession with the game, how such were the exhaustive exertions of managing the all-conquering Barcelona, he needed to take a year off to re-charge his batteries.

He arrived in England as a managerial Messiah bedecked in Gucci and Armani after further success in Munich.

As if waving a magic wand, it appeared as if he had turned a City defence of diminishing abilities into a solid unit and a platform for his midfield and attacking combos. They destroyed all opposition with devastating movement and deadly finishing.

But since Celtic prodded their winning bubble in the September 3-3 draw, six successive games without a win, and three away defeats without scoring in all competitions, we now discovered that Pep, despite being well-dressed, is human after all.

The deployment of Claudio Bravo and dismissal of Joe Hart seems now a master mistake not a master stroke, he is constantly changing the team and there is none of the consistency we expected in the aftermath of Manuel Pellegrini's reign.

We assumed we knew him, a very modern and intelligent man, astute, but the perception was based loosely on translation from Spanish and German, and from an environment when he seemed to be in complete control.

Now, he is feeling pressure for the first time and it is a foreign language, sparking his tetchy press conferences after the Burnley win, suggesting that he won't manage into his 60s, which I suppose is fair enough.

Pressure can be a massive motivator too but it does not normally prompt talk of retirement at 45, especially if you're allegedly the world's master coach.

As with Guardiola and Bravo, Klopp knows that Loris Karius has not been an instant success in goal, but he will recall that neither was David de Gea when he first arrived in England.

It is a different challenge and Klopp seems prepared to stand by his decision. Guardiola seems enslaved by his.

We know what to expect from Wenger and Mourinho.

Wenger will never play a long ball game on the field but his years of experience have taught him the value of playing the long game off it.

The Bournemouth match encapsulated his reign, the vulnerability to go 3-0 behind but also the wonderful football qualities to retrieve the situation.

Mourinho continues to be lovely when winning, but a terror and horror when losing. For a while there, he had the look of someone whose house had been burgled and all his medals stolen.

In fairness, his team were playing better than the results were showing and their six-match winning streak is no surprise.

Mauricio Pochettino is another of whom we think we know a lot about but, behind the veneer of broken English, it is difficult to go beyond a thumbnail sketch of his personality.

Tottenham were always second-best to Leicester last season but, even when his team imploded late on against Chelsea after being bullied in the early stages, he was the peace-maker.

In all the talk of revenge this week, their performance was instead one of cold and calculated composure.

They were exposed in the Champions League but there is a sense that he does not have full responsibility for recruitment. Spurs could afford Vincent Janssen but did the manager really want him?

But he has handled himself well under pressure. He has a clear picture of the way he wants the team to play. He doesn't over-react or show too much over-emotion. A steady thinker with admirable maturity.

All the while, Conte surveys all. We hear too about his reputation as a winner, one who never sleeps. Who is pained by defeat. Who isn't? I don't need a smart biography or smarter journalist to tell me that.

Try walking in Mike Phelan's shoes for 24 hours this season. Or have a go at Notts County for a week in their present predicament - as John Sheridan found out to his cost.

Naming your kid after victory doesn't give you an edge. Insomnia doesn't make you a better manager. Clarity of decision-making and using your players better than anyone else gives you the edge.

But Conte is respectful of the league he is in. He never whinges. He respects the opposition as we saw in defeat to Spurs, and his transformation of Diego Costa reflects his character as a manager.

At this moment, Conte is in playing all the right notes but that can still change. Only first place will lift the pressure.

The manager who can respond best to the challenges will take the standing ovation in May. Conte seems well-placed now but there will undoubtedly be twists and turns to come. We should enjoy the spectacle on and off the field for that reason. There will be more fun.

Only one of these solo artists will be the headliner come May. There'll be plenty of gigs to enjoy before then.

Irish Independent

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