Thursday 19 September 2019

John Aldridge: 'The best Premier League managers have provided a rebranded blueprint for how to do the job'

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

John Aldridge

MOTIVATING the best players has become the most important skill for any manager in the modern game and that’s why Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are in a league of their own.

Finding the words to inspire a player who is earning in excess of €335,000-a-week and leaves his mansion every morning to drive his high-powered sports car to work cannot be easy, especially when you know your future and reputation is being placed in the hands of guy who cannot be relied upon when you need him most. Superstars like Neymar and Paul Pogba carry a lot of clout at their football clubs and if they decide a manager is not for them, they will have enough clout with the owners to win any power battle that might ensue.

That is a threat every manager needs to keep in mind and it highlights how their role has changed since my days as a player and as a manager at Tranmere Rovers in the late 1990s. I was in charge of so many aspects of Tranmere’s business and even loaned the club money at one point when they had debts they were struggling to pay off, with those kind of issues not on the radar of Klopp, Guardiola and their like these days.

The top tacticians are working for organisations that have more employees than some major international companies and while that infrastructure has taken away most of the administrative responsibilities from the man who parks in the manager’s space in the training ground car park, it means he has no excuses if the players are not performing at the peak of their powers. I was lucky to be in dressing rooms that tended to be full of good lads who got along well and didn’t have big egos, but the evidence of the last few years suggests that is not always the case at the big clubs these days.

In my days as a player, if my Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish or Ireland boss Jack Charlton told me to do something, I had to go with it or they would get rid of me. Players were not really in a position to argue with the leader who had to be respected. Then when I took over as Tranmere player/manager, I had to find a way to distance myself from players who had been my pals and my team-mates for a good while before I became their boss. My best skill as a manager was motivation, as I knew how to get players to give every inch for me and was happy to allow my assistant Kevin Sheedy to do a lot of the technical work on the training pitch.

There were times when players would knock on my door to discuss their personal problems and I had no experience of counselling a guy who was having relationship or gambling issues, but that was all part of the job. That side of it was a challenge for me, but I always enjoyed trying to beat the odds by out-smarting a manager who had more money to work with and better players than I had, with some of the tricks I came up with proving to be highly successful for getting players to respect me.

Early on in my time as Tranmere boss, I dropped myself from the team and told the lads that I had to leave myself out as I wasn’t good enough in the previous match. Even though I had scored a few goals in the game leading up to the one where I didn’t play at my best, the message was put out there that everyone was open to being dropped and I recall Big Jack doing something similar with Ireland.

He substituted Liam Brady before half-time against West Germany at Lansdowne Road in 1989 as he showed that anyone was up for the chop if they didn’t perform as he wanted, yet Jack stood by me and continued to back when I went 19 games without a goal at the start of my international career.

I remember Jack taking me aside on a few occasions, telling me to ignore the criticism that was coming my way and told me that I was doing precisely as he wanted, fulfilling a role as the first line of his defence and working my socks off in every game. That’s why I always say Jack was the best manager I worked for.

While he wasn’t great on the technical side ofthe game, he had a method that worked and everyone in his Ireland team would run through brick walls for him. Roll the clock forward to 2019 and we are seeing a very different scenario, with Jose Mourinho the highest-profile victim of a rise of player power that saw him ousted from his job at Chelsea and then Manchester United when the dressing room turned against him.

Players don’t get fired even if they contribute to bad results by not trying as hard as they could and that’s why a fine balance needs to be found when you are working with guys who are rich and powerful enough to undermine you if they need to. I look at the three best managers in the Premier League and they clearly have a method that works, with Klopp clearly enjoying a great relationship with his Liverpool players and Guardiola getting the best out of a superstar Manchester City side each week with more sitting on the bench.

We can also see that Mauricio Pochettino has a great bond with his Tottenham players and that has helped them to punch above their weight for a long time. All three of those managers are great at striking a balance between creating a positive atmosphere at a club and being authoritative when they need to be.

I would imagine that the modern breed of young managers like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard would be guys who can put their arms around players and come down hard on them when needed and that is what you need these days. Any manager throwing his weight around and trying to rule by fear will not succeed in motivating footballers who have the option to rebel and get you out of your job or leave the club and get a pay rise somewhere else. We should salute Klopp, Guardiola and Pochettino for providing a rebranded blueprint for all to follow.

Read John Aldridge every week in The Sunday World.

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