Football Management has to be one of the craziest professions and one wonders why anyone would want to go into it at the highest level, so precarious is your job security; although the pay outs when sacked are pretty comforting, as Jose Mourinho will know.
The past ten days have been interesting in that one of the most successful coaches in the modern era has been sacked from Chelsea. Some would say he became very much a part of the club, maybe too much so. There will be his detractors who will tell you that he bought success, by buying the best players you should always be guaranteed some success, but to be fair that is not always true. You have to make them gel and as anyone will tell you there are always key components that make up a team, such as a strong reliable goalkeeper and a leader on the pitch. For many years Chelsea had that with Petr Cech and John Terry. Manchester United struggled to replace Peter Schmeichel and it was only really when Edwin van der Sar was signed that success returned. Arsenal has not had a decent keeper since Jens Lehman and they have stubbled to win trophies since then.
The most interesting appointment in the past fortnight was that of Gary Neville as head coach of Valencia. It was almost like the Channel Nine cricket commentary recruitment policy, you played internationally so you must know how to do the job.
Neville has unlike many in said commentary box been an outstanding football pundit on television. Yet he has absolutely no managerial experience. There will no doubt be many former premier league contemporaries who are learning the trade in the lower divisions who will be wondering how such an appointment can happen.
What made his appointment even more surprising was it came hot on the heels of another British coach’s sacking in Spain; David Moyes departure from Real Sociedad. La Liga has never really been a competition to embrace British coaches, although Bobby Robson, Terry Venables and John Toshack all achieved success there. In the 1980’s when English teams were banned from Europe many successful managers tried their luck in Spain with varying degrees of success.
The truth is no longer are coaching positions at the top level given to coaches who have put down cones and collected balls at lower division clubs, and learned the trade at the coalface. Now it is all about management diplomas, a degree in business management as well as collecting all of your coaching certificates up to and including your pro-licence. An investment that one Premier League coach recently claimed cost him UKL50,000.
Yet despite all the qualifications, and no matter how glittering your career was as a player, walking into a dressing room as a coach is a completely different situation, and you have to take control early. Neville is going to have to do that and without speaking the language of most of his players. This is going to be hard.
As Mark Hughes put it in a recent article in the UK Independent “It doesn’t matter what your standing was as a player. If you start as a manager and you’re talking bollocks you quickly lose whatever reputation you had. You’ve a couple of games. Straight away, most players are trying to work you out, decide what you can give them and whether you can help them to be successful. If you start on the right foot you’ve got an opportunity. You have to re-educate yourself in terms of what football is all about.”
Having been an outspoken pundit, there will be plenty of coaches who will be more than happy to see if Neville can walk the walk, after talking the talk.
Neville has shown that he has a sharp mind, and maybe he realised that if he was to embark on a career in management starting outside of the gold fish bowl that is the English Premier League was a wise move.
One thing that is for sure his every move will be being monitored closely. For other English coaches, whether they like the way he was fast-tracked into such a position or not, will want him to succeed as it may open the doors for more British coaches. Failure could see those doors slammed shut after David Moyes recent departure.
The downside for those trying to work their way up the coaching ladder is that it may well see clubs go for a big name with no experience and condemn them to more years in the lower divisions.
It certainly takes a very special individual to embark on such a career where the path to the top is never clear.