It’s tough but managers need to learn from sack
LAST week started with news that Swindon Town had parted company with Phil Brown (186 career wins at 35+%). Next came the decision for AFC Wimbledon and Neal Ardley (106 career wins at 32+%) to go their separate ways.
John Askey (132 career wins at 42+%) and Shrewsbury then split and, before you could blink, Harry Kewell (21 career wins at 29+%) and Notts County were no more.
Managers and clubs do part company in increasing number in this day and age. We all know that. Sadly, a manager is an increasingly dispensable commodity.
When you are the affected manager, it never feels good, even if you understand the reasons and you understand the big picture in which you play your part.
Football management is a hugely demanding job, particularly lower down. You find yourself giving your every waking hour to the role.
You are out scouting for new players or watching future opponents, reading match or player reports, assessing technical data, structuring training plans/sessions or personal development pathways, building match plans, executing training, dealing with media, planning transfers, meeting player agents etc – it’s 24/7/365.
The requirements are constant and relentless. Nobody puts more into a club than its manager, especially at lower levels where resources are much thinner and the manager has to be both the strategist and the Action Man.
Such is the extent of the role that when a club says ‘no thanks’, it always feels deeply personal. A manager has so many relationships with so many people. You do all you can to guide and support all those people and their families. And to build the positive energy of the whole. Then you are just thrown out of the door.
Your phone literally stops ringing. Where one day you are inundated, you matter, you can make a difference – the next day you are dead and buried, you matter no more. It is a bewildering change.
Often you feel that the reason is just one result at the wrong time for the boss, or just one word out of place with your owner at a time when he is not in the best of spirits. And that really can be the case, as bizarre as it sounds.
It’s such an emotional game and decisions are always under such public scrutiny.
Sometimes, the reason behind a dismissal is far more obscure and that is still devastating but slightly easier to come to terms with. The thing that I have discovered in managing five different Football League clubs is that they do talk about big pictures, strategic shifts/transformations and long-term plans BUT the absolute essence for a manager is to win games immediately.
Unless you win those next three points consistently and pretty much immediately, then you will not survive. Even if your work is making a positive difference to the evolution of the club.
Every manager needs to realise that and adapt his/her style of management accordingly. The day of the honeymoon period is history. Just ask former Ipswich manager Paul Hurst about that. It is a harsh world with no room for learning on the job.
I’ve learned that because players are so powerful nowadays, the boss simply has to be able to engage the best performance from the dressing room without any delay.
And that performance has to be powerful enough whatever the perceived calibre of the players or the relativity of a club in its league. A manager has to be totally adaptable now. This is not a time for a manager to have one way of doing things or one philosophy that is held true. The initial job of management is about finding a style that brings the best from a given squad; it is not about finding out if a squad appreciates the ideas that a manager has developed. That can come in time if results come in the short-term.
England have a DNA, a possession-orientated DNA, and all younger players have been brought up in that expressive, ball-focused style. So there really isn’t a choice around the basics of all management. Players only really understand that ethos.
But in terms of professionalism, extent, detail, movements, transition strategies and the like, the team will have its own mind. Act too quickly on that mind and you can be history. Don’t act quickly enough and the same applies.
As I said, it is tough. And anybody can get things wrong. Just look at Paul – nearly took Shrewsbury up last year; stuck in the bottom three of the Championship this year. Chalk and cheese.
To all the freshly dismissed managers I say this – do take a break, do use that break to freshen up your market knowledge, do come back stronger and always remember some brilliant guidance that Sir Alex once gave me – ‘Remember that there are always things you could have done differently to win any game’.
His message was ‘take responsibility’. Learn to pick better teams for the game in hand. Learn to get more from your players. Win.
Every sacking I have suffered made me stronger because it made me soul search. It made me think. It made me learn.
I’m sure that Phil, Neal, John and Harry will soon be back in employment and all will be stronger for the difficulty of this moment. The job is tough but managers are a highly resilient and determined bunch.