MAnagers prepare training sessions, make complex tactical plans, manage millions of pounds of budgets, answer difficult questions from the world press, shoulder the pressure of the club’s fan base – and yet some of them struggle when it comes to managing people. Why? Because relationships are complicated.
Players have different personalities formed by their own upbringing, and they have their egos and surroundings. The best managers find the right balance between being tough on players and being sensitive to their needs. Micky Adams, a former Brighton manager who led the club to a steady rise at the turn of the century, said: “It’s one of the hardest things to manage with different personalities.”
“We need to find out what excites them. I see a lot of managers lose their jobs because they can’t build these personal relationships. You need to understand and empathize with the feelings and weaknesses of the players, but also demand the highest standards from them and agree.
“When I was playing, I didn’t care if a manager touched me and told me I was bad. My reaction would be, ‘I will prove you wrong and show you that I did not.’ It’s out of the game now, because the modern player always needs you to reinforce how good they are. No matter what era you’re talking about, nothing has changed – you need the support of the characters who run the locker room. Without them, you will be in trouble. “
Heroes are often leaders and match winners. Managers use various methods to strengthen their lieutenants. The arm on his shoulder was Harry Redknapp’s main approach. This makes sense for the layman. You energize the player with compliments and you are released off the field as long as they perform. Paolo Di Canio, Rafael van der Vaart and Paul Merson were the game builders who used this method.
In the 2002-03 season, Merson told Redknapp that he had to go to Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic for alcohol and gambling problems, but instead flew to Barbados for a vacation. Merson thought he would get rid of Redknapp until he met one of his best friends. The Portsmouth manager closed his eyes instead of punishing the captain. Merson scored 12 goals to win the club league and promotion to the Premier League. Says Merson: “I came back so dark that it was January. “It simply came to our notice then. He didn’t say anything about it and told me two years later. “
Jürgen Klopp has developed a very personal relationship, cultivating an almost religious devotion in his players. By having the ability to touch and a genuine interest in their lives, he has built a trust and connection that has helped the team cope with crushing defeats in the big finals and win the Champions League and Premier League.
Gini Wijnaldum, one of the key players in this success, rejected Tottenham in favor of Liverpool after talking to Klopp. “I had great conversations with him [Mauricio] Pochettino and Klopp, ”he said in 2016. “But we laughed at the meeting with Jürgen and we didn’t just talk about football. He was interested in my personal life, and it was good for me. He was interested not only in footballer Wijnaldum, but also in the person.
“When you’re not on the football field, you have to communicate like people and it’s good to know something about the other person. This makes things easier. Every training we do is to improve you as a player. This is different from what I have experienced before, and I am very happy about it. The manager gives you confidence. It’s not a manager who yells at you or gets angry when you make a mistake. He will only get upset if you don’t do what you know best. ”
Sophia Jowett, a professor at Loughborough University, distilled this approach into a 3 + 1C framework: intimacy, commitment, complementarity, and shared orientation. Wijnaldum’s account features personal information sharing (intimacy), challenging training sessions (commitment), a similar outlook on life (complementarity and coordination), and strong lines of communication. After talking to a number of mentors and mentors, he found that these four elements created a “positive, effective, and harmonious” relationship that could provide a “platform on which weaknesses and needs can be expressed, goals and objectives can be achieved.”
And in theory, Klopp’s laps do more than stifle buyers. When people hug or socialize, the brain secretes the hormone oxytocin to “hug” or “love.” Klopp activates the pleasure hormone in the body when he wraps his arms around a player.
This does not work for everyone. When you look at Steven Gerrard’s achievements under Rafa Benitez – winning the FA Cup and the Champions League and being named the best player of the year by players and writers, you can be forgiven for thinking they are close. In fact, they were something else. Gerrard says Benitez’s “frost” brought out the best in him because he had a “hunger” to earn his praise.
“I can pick up the phone and talk to all my former Liverpool managers except Rafa,” Gerrard said in his autobiography. “It’s a shame, because we shared the biggest night of our career – the victory in the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005, but there is no bond between us. On a basic human level, I prefer a favorite manager like Gerard Houllier or Brendan Rodgers, but working with a cooler person in terms of football is not against me. An insensitive and distant relationship with people like Rafa Benítez and Fabio Capello can sometimes be more successful.
John Stead had a similar approach from Mark Hughes when they worked together at Blackburn in the 2004-05 season. Stead made a flying start in Ewood Park, scoring six goals in 13 games under Graham Souness. When Souness was replaced by Hughes, Stead suffered. “Mark Hughes wasn’t a bad character, but I couldn’t read him,” Stead recalls.
“I need an open and honest manager. When I don’t know what they’re thinking or when I can’t get a direct answer, it plays on my brain and causes me problems. ” Hughes watched Alex Ferguson’s mind games from the first hand in the locker room, but he tried to provoke Stead’s reaction, but to no avail. The striker has scored just two goals in 36 games under the Welshman.
Ferguson was more successful in breaking the cages of his most talented, strong players. He used to make fuss in the locker room against certain players in order to rise above the rest of the team. Wayne Rooney says: “I’ve always had a great relationship with the manager, but in most games there have been times when the manager and I have been apart.” “He knew he was sending a message to other players by doing this to me. He did the same with Giggsy. Always after the game, the manager could get on the bus and slap me on the back of the head. It was his way of saying, ‘It’s over.’
Former Brighton head coach Adams used a similar technique to motivate center-back Danny Cullip during their time together. “I followed Danny to the back of the team and talked about defenders,” Adams recalls. “I would say, ‘Guys, listen, we have to score four goals here to win this game, because you can’t trust these defenders.’ I would have insulted him without confronting him, but he digested it when I was against him, and it really burned him. ”
Ignoring key members of the squad is one of the many tactics used by Jose Mourinho. John Terry received mixed messages from the manager. Mourinho praised the captain and made him feel “10 feet tall”, but when Terry was injured, the manager released him and encouraged Terry to work harder so that he could return to the field sooner.
“If you knocked on the door and missed a day of training, he would come in and not talk to you. He would walk right past you on the treatment table, ”Terry said. “You’re sitting there, the captain of a football club, and you’re looking for a top five with a gaffer – and you don’t understand it, it’s freeing you up. While you are there, he says to the physiologist, ‘How long?’ And physiotherapy will go: ‘A few days.’ And he would just go out. He provoked me and pressed my buttons. “
Sports psychologist Dan Abrahams says that although Benitez, Ferguson and Mourinho have different approaches, they are all designed for the same purpose. “They create an environment of high challenge and high expectations,” explains Abrahams, who works with Premier League players and the England rugby union team.
“A high challenge can create a culture of confrontation by nature, and that’s certainly the case when you look at some parts of Mourinho’s career. They tell the team: “This is the game plan and my philosophy. You either do it or you don’t. If you don’t, you will leave. ” This is a high-risk approach for today’s players – after two or three years they may get tired of it. It is very difficult to have both a high call and high support. The sweet place is between the two. Having worked with Eddie Jones and English rugby, I know he had to soften his approach to help everyone understand their individual needs.
Talent within a team plays an important role in a manager’s success, but most importantly, their ability to win a player’s commitment reveals the team’s potential. There is no plan to make the perfect connection. Every player-manager relationship needs a specially designed plan, and even then, external influences can disrupt the configuration.
To ensure long-term success, managers need to be flexible and adapt to changing attitudes in society, but this does not guarantee long-term relationships. Given what is at stake – three points, big money and personal reputation, clashes are inevitable. It won’t be all the top five and trophy presentations. The intensity of these bonds can lead to depletion. In this sense, they are more like marriage than friendship: you can always dislike each other, but there must be understanding and commitment for a purpose that is not on a self-serving agenda.
But as Adams explains, the best players are ready to get married if you bring them success. “Don’t think everyone likes the manager, because that’s not the case,” he says. “The players have to believe in you and what you do will pay off. Because I have made four progresses, I have understood this in the right place. Now, did they like me? I’m not sure about them. But I guarantee that they will respect me. “