Thursday 12 December 2019

Comment: Guardiola fanfare illustrates we have lost sight of the men who really matter

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola
Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

“Managers get too much credit when things go right and too much criticism when things go wrong. It’s players that matter.” Roy Keane

The opinions of Ireland’s most forthright soccer spokesman serve as a timely reminder that the modern day obsession with the men who patrol the touchline may well be misplaced.

After Manchester City’s capture of Pep Guardiola for next season was hailed as a game changer for the Premier League, might it be that we have lost sight of the men who really matter in this game?

Managers are important to any winning team, of course they are, but they are nothing if players under their command refuse to carry out their order.

So even if you choose believe the fantasy that the men on the touchline have the power to transform mediocrity into magic by sprinkling some of their stardust, recent history confirms such a theory is desperately flawed.

While soccer fans, the media and, most significantly, club owners have bought into the notion that tactical masters have the skills to change sporting destiny, the truth is very different.

You only have to look back to the summer of 2014, when Manchester United and their fans were hailing the appointed Louis van Gaal as their re-entry into the big-time.

Well, less than two seasons into his reign and the #VanGaalOut campaign is in full swing on social media, with the Dutchman’s reign at Old Trafford almost certain to end in disappointment at some point this year.

A similar story is prevailing at Liverpool, a few months after their fans got all watery-eyed as Jurgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers.

Already, Liverpool fans are accepting that their new hero need plenty of time to get their team winning….with no guarantee of success at the end of that wait.

There was a time when a big-money signing set the pulses racing, but this is the era of a handful of super-coaching giants swapping jobs at the top clubs with relentless regularity.

Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Guardiola and Klopp have found their way onto the coaching A-list, but can they really be the game changers we think they are?

In the opinion of Brighton manager Chris Hughton, the modern manager relies on more than just their players to succeed, as this game is so much more complex than it once was.

“You don’t really have football managers any more, not in the traditional sense,” former Republic of Ireland international Hughton tells

“What you have is a structure at a club that a manager fits in to, which generally involves a sporting director, sports scientists and teams of people that work around the team on a daily basis.

“The first team coach slots into that structure and as we all know, they are expendable if results are not going well.

“Managers take the blame for defeats, but you always need good players to succeed.

“Look at the Premier League and generally the most successful teams are Chelsea and the Manchester clubs.

“There is no great secret to why that is the case. They generally have the best players, it’s as simple as that.

“What a manager can do is add the extra ingredients needed to cook up a winning formula.

“He can help to generate a spirit in a team, build momentum, manage expectations. That is where a manager can help good players to become winners.”

Rarely heard in public in an age when jealously over-protective press officers block them from speaking to the world, it’s no wonder that so many footballers believe that they are no longer living in the real world.

Earning more money in a week than their fans earn in a year would change the personality of even the most grounded individual, with their increasingly inflated egos fuelling a reality that their manager is, in fact, at their mercy.

That much was clear during Mourinho’s turbulent final few months at Chelsea, as his set of champions united to oust a manager whose reputation as a modern day great was not enough to save him.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich did all he could to give Mourinho time to rebuild his shattered season, yet it became evident that the players would not perform for him any more.

When the office staff down tools, there is only one option; lance the top man, however brilliant he might be at his job, and hope that the dissenting staff start to perform once again.

Chelsea could hardly sack 12 underperforming star players as they lurched towards the relegation, so the only option was to cut their greatest manager of all time adrift, much to Hughton’s bemusement.

“Not even Mourinho is immune to criticism and one of the big battles for all of us in this job is managing unrealistic expectations,” adds the Irishman, who has guided Brighton into promotion contention in the Championship this season.

“If you have a good season at a club, the owners then believe that there is more to come and yet that is not always realistic.

“That’s why I have been so keen to play down expectations since I arrived at Brighton.

“It is not down to a lack of ambition. It is a way of ensuring people do not lose perspective on what you are trying to do as a manager.”

They may be the spokesmen for supporters who willingly swear allegiance up to their philosophies and ‘four-year plans’, but the diluted role of a manager in 2016 means he should be viewed as little more than a supporting actor in the compelling Premier League drama.

As Roy Keane suggested, managerial Messiah’s are mirages of the imagination and not for the first time, he had a point.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Online Editors

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport