Ire­land’s Mr Mo­ti­va­tor seems to have the win­ning for­mula

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Richie Sadlier

It’s hard to ex­plain why you want to im­press cer­tain peo­ple. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­fine why they make you want to be bet­ter than you al­ready are. For some rea­son, en­cour­age­ment from them seems to carry more weight. Given ev­ery­thing that is known about Mar­tin O’Neill’s style of man­age­ment, it seems he’s one of those peo­ple who has that in­de­fin­able qual­ity. The play­ers seem to take on board the few words he says, which is just as well given how lit­tle else he does.

When I first started to train to be a psy­chother­a­pist, it quickly be­came ap­par­ent there was more than one way to prac­tice. Or to put it an­other way, there was no one ap­proach that was su­pe­rior to all oth­ers given the var­i­ous types of clients a ther­a­pist would meet. The ar­gu­ment goes that no one the­ory has a mo­nop­oly on truth, that no one ap­proach is ad­e­quate for all sce­nar­ios.

The best tech­niques are ones that meet the needs of the client in front of you, but the re­la­tion­ship you form with them is what mat­ters most. If that’s not right, there’s not a lot you can do to sup­port them.

All this came back to me this week amid the dis­cus­sion about O’Neill’s meth­ods. To some peo­ple, of course, how a man­ager ap­proaches man­age­ment is of no in­ter­est. It’s bor­ing to even dis­cuss it. It’s a re­sults busi­ness to them and noth­ing else mat­ters. The only in­for­ma­tion you need can be found in the fi­nal score and ev­ery­thing is based en­tirely around that. What he does or how he does it is ir­rel­e­vant.

Old school

Shay Given spoke openly last week about O’Neill’s in­ter­ac­tions with the Repub­lic of Ire­land squad. “Call it old-school, call it what you want” he said, be­fore go­ing on to de­scribe a very hands-off ap­proach.

He gave an in­sight into how O’Neill would have spent this week prepar­ing his play­ers for tonight’s game in Copen­hagen. In terms of giv­ing the squad spe­cific in­for­ma­tion on Den­mark, he be­lieves the build-up would have been dif­fer­ent to what they were used to un­der a dif­fer­ent regime.

“Nor­mally when squads meet up” ex­plains Given, “the first cou­ple of days would be spent walk­ing through team shape, just walk­ing through stuff, just jog­ging through stuff. This is how we play, this is how they play. Y’know, ‘Erik­sen wants to drop in the hole, Sch­me­ichel wants to zing it long early’, how to coun­ter­act that. But they don’t. And I know they won’t.”

O’Neill’s fo­cus, Given be­lieves, would have been else­where. “He is a fan­tas­tic mo­ti­va­tor. The team talks be­fore and at half-time. He re­ally does mo­ti­vate play­ers. He can be cut­ting, as well, if some­one isn’t do­ing it right. He can be cut­ting in his in­tel­li­gent sort of way”. Ba­si­cally, he knows ex­actly what to say and how to say it.

To use the lan­guage of psy­chother­apy, it would ap­pear O’Neill works in a very re­la­tional way. It’s not about coach­ing tech­niques to him or any spe­cific play­ing style. It’s not about rigidly ad­her­ing to any one tac­ti­cal ap­proach. He un­der­stands them as in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­cates with them ef­fec­tively which is far more use than walk­ing them through team shape. Tap­ping into what drives them is bet­ter than telling them what to do.

Ap­pear­ing to bris­tle at ac­cu­sa­tions he’s out of touch or doesn’t do much, he re­sponded this week to claims that he doesn’t say a lot to his play­ers. “You need to be in the midst of the play­ers, but you don’t al­ways have to be talk­ing to them,” ex­plained O’Neill. “They know I’m watch­ing. Peo­ple might have said I’m a bit aloof, but I’m among the play­ers with­out in­con­ve­nienc­ing them by telling them what to do all the time.”

Vul­ner­a­ble to ac­cu­sa­tions

Of course, it leaves him vul­ner­a­ble to ac­cu­sa­tions he could do more, par­tic­u­larly if things start to go wrong in the play­offs.

If Chrisian Erik­sen, for ex­am­ple, tears Ire­land apart this evening, the fo­cus will be on the lack of plan­ning to pre­vent it. If the ap­proach play isn’t work­ing or the de­fen­sive play is fail­ing, his choice not to work on for­ma­tions all week will be high­lighted. Why on Earth didn’t he spend some time giv­ing them an ac­tual plan?

There is no one ap­proach to foot­ball man­age­ment that’s su­pe­rior to all oth­ers. There isn’t one size that fits all types of player. O’Neill’s way is to tap into the psy­che of his play­ers, say­ing the things he in­tu­itively knows will make the dif­fer­ence. He sees they’re peo­ple with per­son­al­i­ties and not just play­ers with var­i­ous abil­i­ties which is why they’re still alive in this cam­paign.

In the hands of other man­agers such an ap­proach would not suc­ceed, but O’Neill has that in­tan­gi­ble qual­ity that makes it work. He’s cer­tainly one of those peo­ple that the play­ers want to im­press. Why else would so few words make such a big dif­fer­ence?

Many ther­a­pists al­low their clients to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves and to work out their own so­lu­tions to the prob­lems they face. They hold back from giv­ing ad­vice or any strate­gies that might work, pre­fer­ring in­stead to em­power the client to work it all out.

It seems O’Neill has a sim­i­lar ap­proach to man­ag­ing the Repub­lic of Ire­land, free­ing him­self of the bur­den of hand­ing his team all the an­swers. Given they’ve come this far it’s hard to fault his judge­ment.

O’Neill’s sees that they are re peo­ple with per­son­al­i­ties and not just play­ers with var­i­ous abil­i­ties which is why they’re still alive in this cam­paign

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