Football management & love

15 April 2018

n.b. This is a total departure from my previous blogs. 8 nights in hospital, pumped with pain-killers, my emotions have been raging, but so has my creative side. This blog is my creative side ,,


Trapped in a hospital bed and racked with pain, night nurse Caesar & I were talking briefly about football managers. I said that Saints would go down because Mark Hughes is the wrong man for a group of psychologically little boys. They want loving, cheering-up and to feel at one with each other. You can see love in a team. Hughes is incapable of showing and fostering love.

You see love in the teams of Klopp, Guardiola, Pochettino, David Wagner (Huddersfield), Eddie Howe (Bournemouth). These are groups of players that play better than they did under other managers, or play better than the sum of their parts. Players know when they have their manager’s love, & grow, and learn to trust each other and play more creatively, like in a loving family.

It doesn’t guarantee success. Indeed, Huddersfield may go down. But that’s because they lack the individual talent.

Most top managers are technocrats who know how stuff works. They can get you to a high level by getting the technically best players, training them to play in a set of ways, and with the best know-how behind the scenes. They’ll probably call plays they’ve rehearsed; like in grid-iron football. Wenger, Hodges, Puel, and Martin O’Neill in the past, are notable examples. They seem dry and passionless. They can’t inspire love, even when they say the right words.

Then there are the bullies who shout and order these frightened little boys about. The lower league teams are festooned with these. In the old days they’d be ex-soldiers, Scots. These days they’re ex-players -Allardyce, Hughes, Pulis, Pardew. They order their players to play in a particular way. The boys are scared that they’ll be released or flogged-off. They can’t be allowed creativity. These are the quick-fix managers if you’re in a jam, down or near relegation’s precipice.

It may succeed at that point, but the following season you’ll almost inevitably fail. unless you can get a manager to bring love to a team.

Then there are the dads. Ferguson was the classic example. He’d looked after a family of boys for years; the strict dad who shaped them into a team of men. At heart Ferguson was almost a bully but he loved too. Moyes looked similar at Everton but he lacked the mental dominance

Some mangers are hard to typecast: Benitez, Ferguson, Hughton, Conte. They look like they love their players but who knows behind the scenes? They’re probably combinations of the types.

And where to start with Mourinho? He’s essentially a bully-technocrat narcissist. He can get a season or so’s success, but then his pseudo-love turns to vilification. How does a wonderful talent like Luke Shaw turn into a lazy, fat slob? Move now Luke for love, not money!

But why do I say that Saints are psychologically little boys? Well .. in reality players are often plucked from humble families in teen-age or earlier. If they’re “lucky” they become an adult paid footballer. But what kind of arse are you likely to have become, protected in a moneyed bubble of sycophants? Cristiano Ronaldo, Suarez, Balotelli, Sterling – grown men who make you wince with embarrassment at their behaviour. But Sterling is growing … with love

The lesser players are under the radar but still tending to have had un-checked or un-modulated teenage years. How many emotionally-uprooted or emotionally un-regulated players would you leave your 14 year-old daughter with, or ask to stay with your parents for a weekend?

So back to Saints. They had a manager who loved them: Pochettino. Even without good English he showed he loved the players. And he showed them respect. They became a team of players, of men, not just a group of players, boys. Under his loving regime, players learned to trust each other and to exploit their skills in a creative way. They became better players and a better team.

Inevitably Tottenham made an offer that could not be refused. Koemann came in. He’s maybe a technocrat-bully but he could drink from the reservoir of love within the team. Success continued even when Everton vultured in for Koemann (notice how he couldn’t revive a team failing without the Moyes’ boys affect), and even dry technocrat Puel was able to keep enough of the reservoir going at Saints

Meanwhile, the Saints Sale goes on. That’s how clubs without sugar-daddies keep going. Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaw, Lallana, Mane, Lambert (at least he knew where the goal posts were) Fonte …. were grandly sold. But when does it end? When you have nobody left that any other club wants?

It has to be built on moderate success, giving young and foreign players the chance to grow in value. After a few years you sell. But constancy is fundamental. Sadly Saints went wild!

Then we have the most self-destructive sale in history: Van Dijk goes to Liverpool. By the end it was inevitable, but for Saints’ players (by now, not a team) it was devastating

Van Dijk is your big brother. Even if you’ve become quite shit as a team, he biffs the other sides’ attackers & defenders, and he orders us what to do. This is a rare talent that any of the top teams desire. He’s is your manager on the field: leading by example, organising, cajoling, praising. This is how younger players develop. Liverpool paid £75 million for him. Arsenal or Chelsea should have offered £100 million or more. They needed him more because their style of management needs a manager on the field to get consistently higher performance

One big reason why Van Dijk is so rare is that most British footballers don’t have the emotional intelligence to care more for others than themselves (or else realise that your own interests are best served by caring more for others). Team-work is seen as functional rather than a core value. Most learn compassion from experience. Where are footballers going to learn it?

Separately we have the most bizarre Saints manager sacking ever: Puel who had miraculously held on to the winning habit, gets sacked, replaced by a something Pellegrino. Did Saints think they were getting a relative of Pelligrini, the former Man City manager? It felt reminiscent of the Ali Dia affair, where Saints were almost signing a player on the basis that he was George Weah’s cousin (which he isn’t; and why would it be relevant?). Played once as a sub, and subbed as a sub!

What fools in the boardroom decided that this hulking hang-dog Pelligrino fellow with no obvious charm or relevant success was what a demoralised group needed?

You could imagine Pellegrino loving a dog, but a team of players? Making delinquents into law-abiding citizens? Building a shed? The last one maybe

Saints will go down of course. It will be the board’s fault. They have to focus on finding a manager who loves players and who is loved in return. Even rarer than Virgil Van Dijk. But it’s a skill that British football should be looking for and fostering

Is there a Tindr for football teams to find love?