Thursday 15 November 2007

What about a quota for English managers?

There's the regular hoohah going on about foreign players in the Premiership, with people like Stevies Gerrard and Coppell calling for a quota for English players. I don't believe it would do any good. Getting more players into the Premiership doesn't make them better. We need a different system for training them and getting the best out of them.

If it's really the players that make a difference, why aren't they sacked when the club performs poorly? It's the manager who gets it in the neck. There's a good reason for that - it's the manager that makes the most difference. Managers make a huge difference between players playing poorly and well, and between teams playing poorly and well. I think England has a squad that is capable of competing with the best. The fact that they don't suggests there's something wrong with the way they are managed. Steve McLaren - he's better than I thought he would be, but I don't think he's a world beater.

Look at the managers we have in the Premiership at the moment. Of the twenty clubs, only eight have English managers. And only two of those are in the top half of the table. If we want a quota on players, maybe we should be looking at a quota of managers as well. But I don't think so.

Look at who we've got. Redknapp, Curbishley, Allardyce, Coppell, Bruce, Southgate, Megson, Hutchings. I'm including Hutchings despite him having just got the axe - which says a lot already. I cannot see anyone in that lot who has the managerial and organisational know how, the motivational ability, and the sheer guile needed to beat Germany, Italy, Brazil, Argentina. So, just like players, putting more average managers in the Premiership wouldn't solve anything. In fact it would make matters worse, because, without the best management ability around, we'd see our clubs dumped out of European competition earlier and earlier.

Perhaps we should be looking at different ways of training our managers. Entirely different skills are needed, and they're not always there to be taught. Handling information, for instance, is a huge must. Managers are deluged with information. They get readouts of each player's performance each second they're on the pitch. They have reports on players fitness and strength practically down the last molecule. They get videos of their opponents' games, and they analyse strengths and weaknesses down to the last detail. However, they need to command that information and turn it into a strategy - that takes a different kind of skill to those taught in most English football academies. I'm reminded of when Peter Sutcliffe was on the loose - the police realised afterwards that they'd had the information they needed to identify him for a long time. The problem was that they had so much information that they were actually prevented from putting the important bits together.

To give another sporting example, Michael Schumacher is the most successful Formula 1 driver. It makes me spit to say it, because he is such a complete moral vacuum. Nevertheless, he was very, very fast. One reason for this, according to his team mates, is his ability to make sense of all the information at his disposal. Computerised information pours out of Formula 1 cars, and the cars are also entire systems - if you do something somewhere, you get results in all sorts of other places - ease the suspension slightly, and you affect the brakes, the steering, the aerodynamics and so on. Schumacher has the capacity to see patterns in the information and turn all that into a strategy that eventually gets the best out of the car. England's best football managers don't have that capacity. Steve McLaren doesn't have it. He may well be the best English manager around, but he still hasn't got it. It's not his fault. Our managers, as well as our players, are the victims of the compete and clog it school of football in which so many of our youngsters have been nurtured for so many decades. It needs to change if we are to get anywhere. Some people are naturally better at it than others. But it's not innate and uncahngeable - it can be learned. We just don't have a system that allows for people to learn it.

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