Relegation’s ugly but it makes you stronger
You learn a lot about humility when you are at the bottom of a League. It is not an experience I have endured previously and it is certainly not an experience I would rush to endure again. But they say that you are not a ‘proper’ manager until you have experienced relegation and I can truly see why.
When I returned to Stevenage in April 2013, I inherited a squad that had won 0.66 points per game over 18 games. And a squad that then lost its captain as Mark Roberts understandably chose to move on last summer. The harsh reality is that a squad that produces that performance must be short of footballing or human qualities. I was warned about the dense difficulty I would inherit and, yes, things have been tough.
We didn’t have ‘budget’ to play with to change the squad around; in fact, because of a lack of cup success last season, I have largely had to eliminate players I didn’t want to work with and replace them with free on loan or low cost players. So the recruitment market for us has been narrow and progress slow.We aren’t Wolves, Sheffield United or Coventry City. We aren’t Rotherham, Brentford or Preston North End.We don’t have significant transfer funds or attractive wages with which to build.We have to search for ambitious players looking for the opportunity to step up and learn a new level; and we have to be patient while they learn.
Yes we have improved; we have won 0.93 pts per game over 42 League games and 1.17 pts per game in our last 12 League games. But we are still bottom and people will tend to measure our League position not our improvement.
People talk sympathetically to you when you are bottom, as if you are a poor, incapable manager in need of pity. Some treat you with contempt, as if your point of view is no longer as valid as it was when you were winning, even if your abilities, with time and experience, will almost certainly be better.
You cannot even start to defend yourself. There is no point. Nobody listens.You just have to take care of your own self confidence, face the negative music and keep plugging away with a huge mountain of determination and a deep focus. Patiently believing in your vision.
As a manager, mental strength is a vital commodity. It is important that you are able to be honest and not make excuses for yourself. One of my lads said to me this week that from where we were at 0.66 points per game, it was a miracle that we still had a chance of producing an escape with four to play. I know what he means. I know how hardearned our current position is. Daft as that sounds. Without huge amounts of hard work, we would have been relegated long ago.
They say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Roberto Martinez was relegated last year and has shown this season just how good he is at his job. So, too, has Darren Ferguson. And indeed Phil Brown.
The opportunity for any ‘proper’ manager is to show his mettle in the way he reacts to difficult circumstances.
My resilience has grown this year. My strength of character has deepened. And my ambition for success has become even more deep rooted.
We may pull off the ‘impossible’. Or we may fail. Whichever is the case, the future is for those that attack it and seize it. For those that can take tough times on the chin, learn, stand tall and bounce back better. Not for those who dwell on any misfortunes and wallow in excuses.
As Rocky Balboa said,“It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit, how much you can take and keep moving forwards; that’s how winning is done.”
ONE of the lines of theory is that it takes 10,000 hours of repetition of skills to develop proficiency. Another, is that it is more about the that is done on the most impor-tant skills that really counts. If you do 10,000 hours on the wrong things then take 1,000 hours on the right things can take someone of equal ability further. The reality is that the true champions do both; they work hardest and they work at the things most likely to create massive gains in performance