I always rejected the link between football ability and intelligent insight, but it was re-enforced when I returned to Millwall after making my international debut.
I made the briefest of appearances in a relatively meaningless game in which 23 Irish players were used. International friendlies aren't taken that seriously at the best of times, but if they were ever to be graded in terms of importance, caps earned in that game would surely be at the very bottom. You can imagine then how bemused I was when I returned to the club and realised how differently people were treating me.
Though my opinions didn't change on anything, my views would now be those of an international footballer. Everyone from the back-room staff to the academy players were more respectful in conversations after that, based entirely on the flawed premise that the higher the level you play in football the greater your knowledge on the game.
Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos used a variation of that to discredit the views of his coach Jose Mourinho. They clashed over who should have been marking whom when Real conceded a goal, but Ramos ended the row saying Mourinho couldn't comment on the situation because he had never played the game. Challenging a coach of his standing on the grounds of ignorance may not have been the wisest approach, but the sentiment is shared by many players, all of whom see playing experience as the only gauge of footballing intelligence.
I worked for years with a player who I regularly disagreed with. It didn't matter what the issue was or who may have been talking sense, he would always dismiss me with an invitation to return when I had as many first-team appearances as he had. The more you have played the more you know; to him it was that simple. I wouldn't have been the only person who regularly fell out with him, and I often wondered how he settled arguments with non-footballers or at home.
That link between experience and intelligence exists in many people's minds today. I still cringe a little when I'm introduced as a former Irish international when doing any media work, but it's obviously an attempt to lend greater weight to whatever point I might make. I realise that's the intention at least, but the vast majority of my opinions were formed from experiences other than a few minutes playing against Russia 10 years ago.
Despite what Sergio Ramos would have you believe, the experience of playing at the highest level is not essential in becoming a successful coach. The roles are entirely different. Players are responsible for themselves and their performance, coaches run the whole show. So when it comes to coaching and motivating a squad, identifying players, negotiating deals, assessing opponents, reading a game, managing egos, making big decisions in pressured situations, cultivating relationships with the board, the media, the public and the owner, assembling a back-room team and all the other day-to-day challenges that come with being in charge, it doesn't really matter how good a player you were when you were in your 20s and 30s. An illustrious playing career will earn you instant respect among players and supporters, but it won't last long in the dressing room if you don't immediately adapt. It won't last long with anyone if you aren't getting results.
I'm not sure Sergio Ramos chose his target wisely when he attempted to do this with Jose Mourinho, but Mourinho isn't the only coach to have his credentials questioned in this way. Brian Kerr suffered the same towards the end of his reign in charge of the Ireland team. Alex Ferguson wasn't the player Paul Gascoigne was, and Rafa Benitez couldn't have laced Maradona's boots, but management requires different abilities. The myth is still peddled to this day, despite the increasing success of managers like Mourinho, Benitez and Villas-Boas who have never played the game.
All things being equal a manager who has played at the highest level will have more insight than a manager who has never been a professional, but football like life is never equal. Intelligence, imagination and understanding of human psychology matter more than how many corner kicks you have defended. Jose Mourinho understands more about coaching than Sergio Ramos. You could know that without ever kicking a ball.
Sunday Indo Sport