Guardiola magic is working wonders for City

Manchester City look ready to win the title once again, with Pep Guardiola finally but firmly stamping his influence on the team. Effervescent attacking play, married with a tight defence, has created a formidable side; a side that only city rivals Manchester United have been able to match stride for stride so far this season. In a title race that should go down to the wire, City fans will be hoping the guidance of a man who has grown accustomed to success in his managerial career will be enough to fend off their great rivals.

Sergio Aguero’s recent involvement in a car accident is primarily saddening for the Argentine striker, who has begun the season in imperious form for City, but will inevitably have repercussions for how Guardiola will line his side up. United, meanwhile, are able to call on the prolific Romelu Lukaku who has settled into life at Old Trafford with ease. Yet City have standout performers throughout the side, and have overcome sterner opposition than a United team who are yet to face any genuine contenders for the race for European qualification this season.

Guardiola seems to be finally proving his doubters wrong. Of course, that will not have concerned the Spaniard one iota. Moreover, it seems bizarre that one of football’s great coaches would even have doubters. The boring assertions that Guardiola has had a managerial career handed to him on a plate can decisively be crushed by a quick look at Barcelona’s procession of coaches that have struggled to satisfy to the extent that Pep did, or by the dismissal of esteemed coach Carlo Ancelotti who has failed to deliver the imperious results that Guardiola achieved.

Bayern Munich have lost the fear factor, something that Manchester City now have in abundance. Where Munich seem fallible, even with such a dazzling array of stars at their disposal, City have steel in their mentality and an irrepressible verve to their attacking play. Admittedly, the fees spent to bring top players to the Etihad Stadium are undeniably exorbitant. Alas, that is the nature of life at Europe’s biggest clubs. Money is not equivalent to success, although it obviously can help a great deal. But in a league blessed with some impressive sides full of leading talents, it will take a canny manager to come out on top of the pile. Guardiola will be expecting nothing less than a title, and the side is currently looking like a team that can deliver on those ambitions.

The season started relatively inauspiciously for City, with a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Brighton the expected result but not by the expected margin. The subsequent 1-1 draw with Everton perhaps gave false expectations to fans of both clubs. City, although hamstrung by Kyle Walker’s early dismissal for… something, were already huffing and puffing and failing to blow down a resolute Everton who looked threatening on the counter. Sadly for Ronald Koeman, Everton have rarely looked that good since and are now wallowing in the lower reaches of the league as a result of insipid displays devoid of pace or coherent strategy.

City were unperturbed by the disappointment of points dropped in their first league home game, and have since gone from strength to strength. September saw a side clicking into top gear, with seven victories sealed and only one goal conceded. Perhaps surprisingly given the attacking calibre of opponent that they faced, that goal came from combative holding midfielder Claudio Yacob of West Bromwich Albion. Any sadness of conceding to such an unlikely source is tempered by the facts that this was the EFL Cup, and City ultimately prevailed through a brace of Leroy Sane goals.

A resolute defence has been welcomed with relief by the Etihad crowd. Far too often a laughing stock last season, with the likes of Claudio Bravo, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi at various points figures of derision, Guardiola has now moulded a stern rearguard with some unlikely building materials. Perhaps the most crucial element is the foundation of the defence. Where Bravo came out and flapped at criticisms that he was inferior to Joe Hart, Ederson has come out confidently and punched those criticisms into touch.

Cynics will point out that you expect nothing less for £35 million, but the blue of Manchester, who will have been sneaking jealous and covetous glances across the city at David De Gea, now have a goalkeeping asset who could match the Spaniard’s reputation and ability. At 24 years old, Ederson is a baby in goalkeeping years. The traditional fears about how this poor Brazilian will cope with the physical demands of the Premier League have thankfully been forgotten, with Ederson deciding to convincingly prove this by taking Sadio Mane’s boot head on. His command of the area has been impressive, whilst his distribution has been intelligent.

Sterner tests await the goalkeeper, but he is already projecting an aura of confidence and competence. Considering the fairly makeshift nature of the defence in front of him, that is all the more noteworthy. The backline in the impressive 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge is presumably not one that Guardiola would have anticipated fielding in such a crucial fixture, but it certainly worked. The central defensive duo of Stones and Otamendi have been reinvigorated this season, with the former showing a glimpse of his considerable potential and the latter reminding critics that he is a very talented player who actually had a career before he came to England.

The £50 million man Kyle Walker was at right-back, a player whose name at Tottenham nearly became synonymous with left-back Danny Rose as they delivered equilibrium to Spurs’ devastating attack. Only time will tell if Fabian Delph will develop into Walker’s new Rose. With the long-term injury of Benjamin Mendy, Delph appears to have emerged as an unlikely but serious candidate to fill in the left-back berth. Both him and Danilo would not be natural contenders to bring balance to the left-hand side of the defence; Danilo does have the fact that he is a full-back going for him, but Guardiola does love to eschew convention in favour of shoving midfield players where you might not expect them to fit.

City show their unity against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.

City show their unity against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.

Invariably, it works. The tactical nous and the self-confidence to make those calls are what separates the Guardiolas from the England managers. Of course, England fans have had years of watching players shoehorned into incorrect positions, but the difference between how Guardiola manipulates formations could not be greater. Firstly, Guardiola is currently operating out of necessity rather than choice. Importantly, Guardiola has a clear way of playing that encourages tactical flexibility, and it is an ethos that his squad buy into wholeheartedly. To put it as kindly as possible, England do not have this.

It would not be surprising to see Delph put in a whole season of impressive performances at left-back to seal a starting spot in central midfield for England at the World Cup in the summer. While the national team manager has constraints in that Southgate cannot go out and spend £50 million on a midfielder, it would be typical of England to stubbornly select a player in a position that they haven’t occupied all season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another prime example; it would not be surprising to see Southgate disregard his starting position for Liverpool thus far and include him in the starting lineup rather than on the bench where he has done some adequate sitting this season already.

It was a former England manager who gave City one of their two 5-0 victories in September (the other 5-0 was against Liverpool, while City also delivered a 4-0 dismantling of Feyenoord and a 6-0 thrashing of Watford). Taking over at Crystal Palace is the epitome of a thankless task, especially in the short term. Having failed to register a point or a goal in the league, the timing was far from propitious from Roy Hodgson as his new side entered a somewhat tricky run of fixtures. A home tie against Southampton was probably earmarked as a kind fixture to ease Hodgson in, but a 1-0 defeat was not the best preparation for facing both Manchester clubs and Chelsea in consecutive league fixtures. City managed to outdo their city rivals by winning 5-0 compared to 4-0, but those results will have Chelsea salivating for their encounter after the international break.

Hodgson’s sides are usually nothing if not organised and dogged. After all, it was his competent stewardship that took England to positions where they could disappoint so significantly. However, defeat against a rampant City seemed as close to certainty as one can find in the unpredictable world of football. Pundits expected a rout, and they were vindicated; the betting preview by Oddschecker backed Manchester City to win to nil and by a margin of more than two goals, and those predictions proved correct in straightforward fashion. With an attack blessed with creativity and clinical finishing, it will not be the last time that City run riot against a defence in disarray.

While victories such as the comprehensive defeats of Palace and Watford were not surprises, although the latter were predicted to deliver more of a resistance, it is the triumphs against would-be title contenders in Liverpool and Chelsea that have marked Guardiola’s side as one that will go the distance in this campaign. The 5-0 defeat of Liverpool was made easier by Mane’s reckless red card in the first half; before that dismissal, City may have held a 1-0 lead but were looking vulnerable to Liverpool’s blistering pace. After that, it became a formality, albeit a formality that was very easy on the eye.

The 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge is the one that will have given Guardiola most encouragement, and its timing just before the international break leaves City in the enviable position of topping the league for the next fortnight. Kevin De Bruyne, a former Chelsea player more in name rather than in experience, was a master at work. His reinvention as a deeper-lying playmaker worried many pundits as it negated the propulsion that he can deliver to swift counter-attacks. However, this element of his game has not disappeared. Rather, he has become more of an all-action midfielder, with his incisive vision and precise passing just as lethal from deeper positions as it is in tight situations around the opposing penalty area.

Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his winning strike against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.

Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his winning strike against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.

David Silva has enjoyed a similarly stunning start to the season, with the Spaniard now bearing a physical resemblance to Stephen Ireland but a footballing resemblance to few others, such is the level that he is operating on. It will be interesting to see how City adapt in the longer-term to the absence of Sergio Aguero. The Argentinian had begun the season in prolific form, and had usurped Gabriel Jesus as the main man in a battle that Guardiola would have been thrilled to witness.

However, the stage is now set for Jesus to flourish. There will be increased pressure on the young Brazilian’s shoulders as he will now be relied upon to regularly produce goals in addition to contributing to build-up play, but Jesus has shown no signs of buckling under pressure in his City career thus far. Leroy Sane has come back into the team with a flurry of goals, the perfect response to being sidelined by Guardiola for the start of the season. It seems likely that Jesus and Sane will dovetail as a front two by name, but with a greater flexibility to drop deep and run wide than perhaps Aguero would have offered.

Manchester United are unlikely to go away without a fight, and the Manchester derby on December 9 could have dual significance in terms of bragging rights and supremacy at the top of the table. With Chelsea and Tottenham capable of staying the distance, Guardiola will have a tough task negotiating the resistance of the title challengers. There are a lot of experienced managers in the Premier League, but Guardiola’s convictions in his approach and his innovative tactical strategies could be the difference between challengers and champions.

MAXIMUS TACTICUS: Bayern Munich

It cannot get more intriguing than this. Bayern Munich on the back of their treble-winning season is set to further establish their claim as the strongest team in European club football. Taking charge is the man who has masterminded the rise (and rise) of Barcelona, one of the best teams ever to play the beautiful game, according to many. Debojyoti Chakraborty analyses how Pep Guardiola shapes up the German superpowers

Change is in the air. With the onset of a new season, comes a fresh new series of Maximus Tacticus. Having covered the EPL clubs exclusively in the first season, we now look beyond and our first destination is the reigning European champions Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola returns to the limelight after a year’s sabbatical and he would look forward to emulate his unprecedented success at the Camp Nou.
 
One thing that Pep’s Barcelona lacked heavily was a strong defence. It is a testimony to their overwhelming attacking and possessional display that very few teams were able to exploit that weakness. At Bayern, Pep is presented with a strong defence marshalled by Dante and Jérôme Boateng. Behind them, German shot-stopper Manuel Neuer forms a solid foundation at the back. Pep likes to have attacking fullbacks; don’t be surprised if Philipp Lahm and David Alaba are deployed more as wingbacks this season. Their attacking forte is already on the show as the duo have provided with five assists, and the latter scoring twice already in the season.
 
Unfortunately, Javi Martínez is out injured currently. I have a feeling he might be deployed in the heart of the defence as a ball-playing centre-half (remember Javier Mascherano?). Pep loves to build up attack from the back and Javi will give him that option. Another aspect of Barcelona under Guardiola has been their pressing football higher up the pitch. The centre-backs often played close to the centre circle in an attempt to narrow down the playing area and intercept any through ball from the opponent. But at Bayern, he is urging his defenders to stay a bit behind while not in possession. This enables them to spread the ball wide and launch a counter-attack through fast-paced wingers.
 
Over the last couple of seasons, Bayern’s success has been built around its dynamic wing play which as a matter of fact is in direct contrast to how Barcelona evolved under Guardiola. But it seems Guardiola is adapting to the Bayern way than the other way around. Quite sensible I’d say, with Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben on the wings, not to mention some of the other aces up his sleeves.
 
Guardiola loves to have a jam-packed midfield even at the cost of out-and-out strikers. It is no surprise that he has not had the best of relations with his main striker during his managerial career. This time too he has shown his cards with the sale of main striker Mario Gomez and being happy with only one clinical finisher, Mario Mandžukić. The signs are clear that Bayern will play with one man upfront, or some time with the False 9 formation.

Bayern under Guardiola

 Precisely the reason why even after having a plethora of options in the centre of the park – Javi Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller – Guardiola has added Mario Götze and Thiago Alcântara to his squad. Schweinsteiger will continue to link up defence with attack in his usual midfield anchor-man position while Kroos will complement him in a box-to-box midfield role. Muller completes the three-man midfield where he would be the furthest man forward. This is the favourite formation of Guardiola where his asymmetrical three-man midfield dictates the play which is in direct contrast to their traditional 4-2-3-1 system. It is most demanding for Schweini as he is accustomed to play alongside another holding midfielder in a double pivot system but so far he is doing pretty well.

Bayern Evolution

Guardiola can best be described as a football romantic and his thinking out-of-the-box presented us with the tiki-taka style of play. He loves to experiment and is eyeing an evolution, rather than revolution at the Allianz Arena. His much favoured 4-3-3 requires fast-tracking wingers and although world class, Robben and Ribéry are not really known for their defensive work rate. So Pep has his eye on a 4-1-4-1 formation where Lahm is positioned as a defensive screen. Lahm, or for that matter Javi Martínez, having very good control over the ball, are ideal for this linkman role which allows the game to spread more and gives more options to his wily wingers. It opens up the avenue for his central midfield pairing. Schweinsteiger can be partnered higher up front with either Kroos or Thiago. The wingers are encouraged to be involved in tika-taka, a short passing style of play, and their proximity to the respective fullbacks help them retreat easily while trying to defend. This pairing of wide players gives the team an added advantage in attack while Robben or Ribéry can cut inside to exploit the space vacated by the opponent fullbacks. The advantage of this system is that a single substitution, or even mere change of role of the on-field players, can alter the formation to a more robust 4-2-3-1 or a more attacking full throttle 4-3-3.

New Look Bayern
 
Bundesliga is much more defensively organized and far more physical than La Liga. It would certainly be hard for Pep to implement his favourite False 9 with 4-3-3 formation at Bayern. But one feels he would surely try it out at some point of time – maybe against a less fancied opponent in the league or in a dead rubber in the Champions League. He loves to have a pack of midfielders passing the ball around while interchanging their positions with maximum flexibility. And who says we do not have a Messi in Germany? Götze, the German Messi is raring to go!
 
 

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Note: Read *Boateng* for *Boetang* in the three images

The Next RED KNIGHT

 
Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson took over the reins as the manager of Manchester United Football Club on November 6, 1986 after the board sacked Ron Atkinson when the team was in the relegation zone. It has been close to 25 years since United had anybody else other then Sir Alex at the helm. A generation of United fans doesn’t know how it feels not to have Sir Alex blasting the living daylights out of referees from the touchline. Ferguson inherited a dispirited team of underachievers who had consistently, to their supporters’ discontent, failed to break Liverpool’s domination.

For the first few years, United didn’t win a trophy under him till 1990, when they tasted success with the FA Cup win. It is said that his job was under serious threat before the third round tie against Nottingham Forrest. Since then, there has been a never-ending supply of glories and trophies with 12 League titles, five FA Cups, two UEFA Champions League, one Club World Cup, one European Cup Winners Cup, one Inter-Continental Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and nine charity shields – in total 32 trophies.

Season after season, United have landed trophies under the great Scotsman; but after him, who? Many believe last season’s league triumph and Champions League final appearance was only possible because Sir Alex was at the helm, as the squad was poor compared to other title winning United squads. The managerial cacophony that took place after Sir Matt Busby stepped down, is etched in the memory of United fans. So, as Sir Alex completes 25 years in charge of United, the next managerial change in United will be crucial for the future of the club and will be one of the toughest decisions that the CEO of Manchester United Football Club would have to take.

It’s said that no one person is bigger than the club. When it comes to players, it holds true. But what if someone’s philosophy and direction defines the club in the modern age? Nothing of importance that happens at Manchester United goes without Ferguson’s knowledge or approval. He is as close to impossible to replace, as any manager could be. Good luck following this act.

Like everybody else, I have a speculative list of three people who I believe has the potential and credibility to take over from Sir Alex, as the manager of United. The following three managers are relatively younger, but experienced enough and successful in their own rights. In my view, the next United manager will be young, as United would certainly opt for a long term successor instead of a stop-gap arrangement, to fill the big boots of Sir Alec.

Jose Mourinho:


 

José Mário dos Santos Félix Mourinho or simply Jose Mourinho is a name that divides football fans and pundits alike. If anybody has the personality and charisma to take over from Sir Alex, then this is the man. He has worked as an assistant manager and interpreter with legendary English manager, Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto and then at FC Barcelona.  His managerial career started with Benfica, then he moved to Porto, where he won the Champions League, and then his first big move came when he took over at Chelsea from Claudio Ranieri, in 2004. Armed with Roman Abrahamovic’s financial strength, Mourinho built a Chelsea side which won its first league title in 50 years in the 2004/05 season, thus breaking the Manchester United and Arsenal hegemony at the top of English football. He also won the treble with Inter Milan and is currently manages Real Madrid.

Strengths:

He is an ‘attention-to-details’ manager. A Jose Mourinho side cannot be accused of being under-prepared. Invariably all the Mourinho teams are well-drilled with a fantastic backline. He builds his team from the defence and firmly believes in the theory that offence wins you games but defence wins you championships. He is regarded as one of the most tactically sound managers in Europe and studies the opposition team thoroughly. He is known for building personal relationships with his players and so he automatically owns the dressing room and commands fierce loyalty from his players.

Weaknesses:

Jose Mourinho is widely known for playing winning but pragmatic football which directly goes against the traditions of Manchester United. United is known for playing entertaining and free-flowing football, and the Old Trafford crowd demands not only winning football but easy-to-eye football.

Mourinho is known for playing the pantomime villain, all too well. In some cases it might take the pressure off the players, but on the downside, instead of the players, the manager may enjoy the media spotlight a bit more than what is expected in Old Trafford.

Verdict:

Jose Mourinho is the top contender from taking over from Sir Alex. He has the managerial acumen and the required charisma and personality to fill the big boots of Sir Alex. He shares a fantastic rapport with the great man, and as David Gill has stated that Sir Alex will have a huge role to play on his succesor’s choice, so Mourinho is one of the, if not the front runner for the post. Will he be ready to commit his long term future to Manchester United, build another dynasty and play the kind of football the Old Trafford demands every time the successors of the ‘Busby Babes’ take the field? 

Josep Guardiola:


 

Pep Guardiola enjoyed a stellar playing career with FC Barcelona with 263 appearances and won numerous trophies, including the European Cup in 1991-92 season. He finally left Barcelona in 2001.

His rise to become one of the most coveted managerial talents is nothing short of astounding. He was appointed as the coach of FC Barcelona B team at the start of the 2007-08 season. Under his guidance, the team subsequently won Tercera Division and qualified for the 2008 Segunda Division Playoffs, which the team won and was promoted. He replaced Frank Riijkard as the manager of Barca at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, he made some sweeping changes to the Barca side by off-loading starts like Ronaldinho and Deco and brought in fresh players like Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Gerard Pique. In his first season with the Catalan giants, the young manager won an unprecedented six trophies, an astonishing achievement for such a young manager. He is also the youngest manager to win the UEFA Champions League and he won it TWICE, in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He has already won three back-to-back La Liga titles. Now that’s an outstanding record for a young manager.

Strengths:

Under Guardiola, Barcelona has developed and mastered a mesmerising passing game that sometimes leaves their opponents chasing shadows in the midfield. His players are so adept in keeping the ball to their feet that the opponents are just left with no choice but to withstand all the pressure and hope to hit them back with a quick counter-attack. Another feature of Guardiola’s Barca team is the pressing game that they play, which rarely allows the opponents to settle down with the ball. The football that Barca plays is beautiful to see but extremely hard to execute and physically demanding on the players, so Pep’s players are extremely fit and he rarely rotates his team, barring injuries. Although he spent a lot of cash bringing new players to the club, he is ready to give youngsters in the club a shot at the first team, which is quite similar to Sir Alex’s and United’s philosophy of providing the youth a chance.

Weaknesses:

Josep Guardiola is regarded as one of the most, if not the most coveted young manager in the game but all his successes have been achieved in the familiar surroundings of the Catalan giants. Guardiola has played for Barcelona for a long period of time and then returned as their manager. He knows the club inside out and knows the brand of football that is needed for the La Liga. There arise questions as to how he can adjust his style of play in a different club, in a different league. Only time can answer that.

Verdict:

Josep Guardiola will be a kind of coup for Manchester United if they can acquire him. He is young, has promoted the brand of attacking football that the Old Trafford crowd bays for and will be willing to build one more dynasty. But can he adjust to a different club in a different league?

David Moyes:


 

 Had I been the CEO of Manchester United, I would not think twice before offering David Moyes to fill up the managerial vacancy, with Sir Alex not around, but unfortunately I AM NOT! David Moyes is one of the finest British managers in the game right now. He is young, tactically alert and a fantastic man manager.

His managerial career started at Preston North End in 1998, taking over from Gary Peters as the club struggled in the Division Two. Preston avoided relegation and qualified for the Division two playoffs, which they lost. The following season, they won the Division Two title and was promoted to Division One and qualified for the playoffs with largely the same squad that won the Division Two title.

Moyes left for Everton to take over from Walter Smith in 2002. If we take Everton’s budget into account then Moyes has achieved miracles with the club, and unearthed and harnessed talents like Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and the latest one, Ross Barkley. Everton achieved Champions League qualification in the 2004-05 season, a remarkable achievement for a club with a small budget.

Strengths:

I haven’t seen much of Preston North End but whatever I have seen of Everton in the last 10 years, I can safely say, that a David Moyes team won’t leave anything behind in the field, whatever the result might be. A trip to Goodison Park is always a tough fixture in the League calendar – an Everton team will hurry and hassle the opponent into making mistakes while displaying remarkable team ethic and commitment. They work their socks off on the field. David Moyes is known for making some smart buys and loan moves, as Everton’s budget is very low. This season Everton’s net spend was NEGATIVE, the only top-flight club with a negative net spend. Players like Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta (who left for Arsenal this season), Royston Drenthe and Steven Pienaar were brought to top flight English football by David Moyes. Tactically smart and a fantastic man manager, David Moyes is a special managerial talent.

Weaknesses:

David Moyes has harnessed his managerial skills at Preston North End and Everton. With no offence to Everton, can Moyes handle the pressure and expectations that come with being the manager of a big club like Manchester United? Over and above, he doesn’t have much experience of playing or managing in Europe, which is tactically a totally different ball game.

Verdict:

If there is one British manager that deserves his chance of managing a top club like Manchester United, then David Moyes is the man. United’s ethos lies in the fact that they try to build the foundation of a team through young players and they put a lot of emphasis on their youth academy. Moyes is known for identifying young players and nurturing them. Wayne Rooney is one of the best examples of a prodigal young player, nurtured by Moyes. He will carry forward the tradition, from Sir Alex, of building a team on young up-starts. He will be keen to build his own legacy at Manchester United and if he achieves success, then United need not worry about another managerial vacancy for a long time. I have discussed the strength of a typical David Moyes team. As opposed to Pep and Mourinho, Moyes doesn’t have the requisite funds but his strength lies in the way he prepares the team, and his penchant for an astute buy.

Football Management is Easy…NOT!

The concept of Football Management doesn’t sound that tough especially for those who have mastered various football management games. Find good players, pick and buy ‘em, and win games. In theory, it is the very essence of simplicity. So why then, is there such a difference between the Alex Fergusons and the Gian Piero Gasperinis of this world? What separates the successful from the sacked? What does a football manager need in order to become a success and likewise, what might lead to a manager’s failure?

By looking at some high profile managers, both past and present, we can get an understanding of both. From those that I have actually looked at closely, in recent times, we have managers like Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, while from times past, the name of Brian Clough springs to mind. What are the key factors that make these men the great managers they are? There possibly are many factors that play their roles, but let me highlight two I find the most striking.

Three of a kind

The support of the Chairman/Owner/Board

It is not the most difficult thing to comprehend that only if the manager is supported from the top can he hope to succeed. The owners have to believe in the direction the manager takes the club on the field. They need to provide support when match results fail to meet expectations, try as much and avoid public criticism of him, arrange for availability of proper transfer funds and above all, steer clear of picking the team. A prime example of this kind of support is the early career of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. In December 1989, after a run of bad results and some heavy defeats, most of the English media and the Man Utd fans were calling for Ferguson to be sacked. The Board of Directors instead offered their full support. How different would the history of English and European football have been in the last 20 years if the Directors of Man Utd had not done so? Would Man Utd be, as they are now, one of the world’s biggest clubs in the world and have a record of 19 English League titles? I can say with almost complete certainty that they would not.

In marked contrast to Ferguson at Man Utd, there is the situation that Gian Piero Gasperini found himself in, at Inter. It was no secret that he was not Massimo Moratti’s first choice. Indeed, it would appear that he was as low as fifth on Inter’s wish list for a new coach when he was appointed in June 2011. This was public knowledge so it was hardly likely to make him feel secure at the beginning of his tenure. Inter’s results did not go Gasperini’s way to say the least. The situation was not helped either, by Moratti publicly calling on the manager to change his tactics following a defeat. Gasperini had also clearly planned on not having Wesley Sneijder in his squad, as the Dutchman was Old Trafford bound for most of the summer. Now Gasperini is one of those managers who prefer a three-man defense. He has always played 3-4-3 and when he came to Inter, it was not expected he would change that. Gasperini’s controversial formation had no real place for a player like Sneijder, yet when the proposed transfer fell through, the pressure came on Gasperini to start the midfielder in his team. Once again, this pressure came from the owner of the Club undermining the manager.

This was a ridiculous situation and nobody was particularly surprised when Gasperini was sacked in September 2011 after failing to win any of the 5 games in charge. Certainly it’s a poor record but can any manager be judged over 5 games? I think not. It would seem that Gasperini’s position was always precarious but it was Moratti’s actions that contributed directly to the coach’s failure. The final word on this situation should perhaps be left to the late Brian Clough and might have given Moratti pause for thought: “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well.”  Indeed.

Man-Management Skills

Once more this may seem obvious, but I think it’s more than just being able to handle difficult players or rotate your team. The great managers inspire their players to be loyal to them and to obey them without question. This can be done in different ways. I would say that Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough did this through highly autocratic styles of management. Their teams were not democracies, rather they were dictatorships. In contrast, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to operate a much more egalitarian style of management. Both methods can be made to work very successfully but a good manager must have his player’s total commitment, regardless of how he gets it.

I do not think Ferguson is, or has ever been, “friends” with any of his players. He does not negotiate with them or placate them – he is ruthless and his word is law at Old Trafford. He will without hesitation get rid of great players like Roy Keane and Jaap Stam as soon as they step out of line. This lets every other player know that they are expendable and that if you want to play for Man Utd, you do as Ferguson orders. I believe this is why United are famed for their last minute goals and willpower to win – the players are literally afraid to face Ferguson after a defeat or a poor performance. Ask David Beckham, you never know when a flying boot might hit you….

Brian Clough was also a manager who achieved huge success by ruling his players with an iron fist. In a famous quote, he once responded to a question about what happened if one of his players disagreed with a decision he had made: “We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right.” Clearly, Clough tolerated no opposition from his players. He required their unconditional loyalty and obedience and in return guaranteed them trophies. As his success showed, it was an arrangement which, more often than not, worked very well.

Clough and Ferguson’s methods are certainly one way of getting what you want from your team. Both ruled their players absolutely but, rather than inhibiting their teams, it inspired them to success.  However, there are also other approaches to man management that appear to link the most successful managers of the last three seasons in Europe.

Mourinho and Guardiola seem to inspire their teams to great success in a much less confrontational way, acting almost like equals rather than autocrats. Mourinho was well known to be friendly with many of the Chelsea players like Drogba, Lampard and Terry. He got the best out of them by being one of them. This is rumoured to be the reason that Phil Scolari subsequently failed at Stamford Bridge. He tried to impose his more dictatorial style of management on the team and the players didn’t buy into it.

At Barcelona, Guardiola has built one of the greatest football teams the world has ever known by having some of the best players in the world, who are also the hardest working team in the world. The Barcelona players will literally run themselves into the ground during a game as they are completely committed to Guardiola and his vision of how football should be played. As Guardiola is a young manager, he can, I believe, connect with his players on a personal level. There is a two-way loyalty at work between the manager and his players (as there is with Mourinho at Madrid and formerly Inter and Chelsea) and this has been a key factor to success.

The absence of player commitment to a manager’s vision for the club is fatal. It can be argued that this resulted in the failures of managers like the aforementioned Scolari and Gasperini at Chelsea and Inter respectively and Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. It was also famously to blame for Brian Clough’s ill-fated spell as manager of Leeds United.

Conclusion

For a manager to succeed, they must have support from above and below, from Chairman and players. Without both of these, consistent success is impossible. Without the backing of the owners, a manager can never feel secure at a club and will never be able to bring whatever vision he may have to the club. Without commitment from the players, that vision will never be realised on the pitch. No amount of tactical genius will help make up for the players not giving 100%. There are certainly many other factors that go into separating great managers from those who have failed but, in my opinion, these are the two most important.

In conclusion then: Real life Football management – not as easy as it looks.

                                                                                                                                                              

Eoghan McMonaglecan be reached at eoghan.mcmonagle@gmail.com