George Dearnaley

No place for Mr 'Nice' guy

2008-10-30 11:20
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

I’ve had my share of football managers during my career – not the ‘top-of-the-range-won-the-Champions-League’ type, but in my time at AmaZulu I had Clive Barker for a few seasons, and I had Jeff Butler, Gavin Hunt and Bruce Grobbelaar at Seven Stars. I also had Shakes Mashaba and Augusto Palacios during my short Bafana Bafana career – and looking back, I believe there are certain qualities that should be obvious if you want to manage a team of professional footballers, and there are some qualities that you could probably do without.

I also had a 3-month trial at Leeds United where Howard Wilkinson was in charge. I’ve never met a dourer, less humorous man in my life.  He was all doom and gloom, and it seemed to rub off on to the players. There was little cheer in the dressing room, and even less on the field. Wilkinson, who tasted Premiership success in the 1991/92 season, had the personality of a boiled potato and I was told that he could not accept Eric Cantona’s attitude and free spirit while he was at Leeds. He was a manager who wanted all his players to conform, and ultimately he couldn’t handle the new personalities arriving from Europe.

I recently read an interview with Sir Alex Ferguson, a rare one-on-one with a journalist, where he made it quite clear that as a manager of men, men who earn a fortune in cash, who are adored by thousands of kids, who have power and glory, literally at their feet, it was imperative to command the respect of the dressing room.

Winning mentality

It’s a phrase that is used when a coach can’t seem to get any decent results. Trott Moloto of Sundowns, Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, both previously of Tottenham Hotspur – “They’ve lost the dressing room!” A common quality of all these men is that were seen as very ‘nice’ people. ‘Nice’ is probably not something you would tag to Sir Alex. Jose Mourinho wasn’t nice. He was arrogant, confident, special, passionate, charming and charismatic – but not nice. And he wanted to win – all the time.

Most of the coaches who have won the league in South Africa, Jeff Butler; Ted Dumitru; Gavin Hunt; Gordon Igesund – they all have desire, passion and a ‘winning mentality’. Roy Barretto won the league at Pirates but was too nice – the supporters got on his back, the players didn’t seem to want to play for him, and he left in his second season – the loss was Pirates’.

Tottenham under Ramos played ‘nice’ football, but it wasn’t ruthless. There was no hard edge. It’s easy to say in hindsight but Ramos was too soft for Spurs. If your two biggest city rivals are Chelsea and Arsenal – then you need to have a fighting spirit, and it was lacking at Spurs. Harry Redknapp, if anything, is a fighter. Make no mistake about the well manicured Mr Wenger either – he is mostly in control of his emotions but every now and then there is a glimpse of the passion that lurks beneath that icy veneer. His teams play great, flowing football, but they can also mix it with the best. Big Phil Scolari also has that quality – he once famously punched an opposition player on the sideline!

Know who is boss

There are a few more Premiership managers who have benefited from their time under Sir Alex. Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane are all managing in the same league now, and you have to consider Fergie’s influence on all of them. All four of them were ferocious on the park, and so you imagine they will instill that fighting spirit in all their teams.

It’s not to say that ‘aggressive’ attitude is all you need, otherwise Vinny Jones would be the best manager in the world. But players must have your respect, they must know who is boss, and they must be clear on what you want. Being nice in times of trouble won’t cut it.  And it is a cut-throat business, measured on winning games, not on making friends.

In South Africa, with all the political problems of the past, I often think the managers feel they have to say the right things all the time.  And so in some ways players actually get away without criticism. I don’t think we need bullies, but we need people who tell it like it is. If your teams want to win things - and that is what professional sports is all about, winning – then being ‘nice’ is perhaps something that you shouldn’t brag about on your CV. Confident, ruthless, no-nonsense, mentally tough, and passionate and a desire to win – these are the qualities that make a good manager.

George is Media24's Soccer Business Manager.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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