These days the type of manager you’re most likely to witness on a touchline will be wearing a perfectly fitting designer suit, carefully standing so as to not dirty his smartly polished shoes. It’s common place. People would hardly bat an eyelid – just like they wouldn’t if their teams latest big money signing turned up on a match-day with bright pink hair and a new tattoo illustrating his love of the latest girl-band member.
But football wasn’t always like this. In the not so distant past things were far removed from this ‘glitz and glamour’. Managers up and down the country were cladded in tracksuits, kicking every ball at training sessions and relishing the chance of instructing their pupils. But when/why did this change? And is it necessarily a bad thing?
Bill Shankly took charge of Liverpool in December 1959, and the first thing he changed was training. He hopped onto a bus with the first team squad, armed with nothing more than a few footballs, a clipboard and a set of ideas. He worked tirelessly with his players in a very hands-on fashion and as a result built a dynasty that lasted decades. Similarly, Brian Clough could be seen as almost a complete ‘control freak’, with meticulous attention to detail in every aspect of the club from top to bottom.
Undoubtedly the game has evolved since these ‘old school’ managers were at the helm, with most in agreement that the overall quality has improved. Also apparent is the correlation between the change of manager and evolution of the game. The hazier question is which change was dictating the other.
The introduction of the Premier League signified the start of an unprecedented amount of TV coverage, and with it a newfound wealth and interest – suddenly football was readily accessible. The ‘Sky TV’ generation whetted the appetite for televised football, along with a desire to watch these top teams competing in Europe. The thirst has proved difficult to quench, and the requirement for Premier League teams to be seen competing amongst the top teams has developed. The timing could not have been better for English teams, having just returned to European football following a five year ban, leaving them hungry to prove they were worthy.
To maintain this desire to be competitive, improvements in the English game were required. After a few unsuccessful seasons for English clubs in Europe, it was clear that they had begun to fall behind the other leading European countries.
Advancements in ‘Sports Science’ were indicating that the English methods needed to change. A pre match pie and chips and a ruck of ale on a weekend was no longer something players could get away with – not now the rest of Europe had fully embraced modern dietary and training methods.
It can be argued that any transition to new sporting lifestyles could be adopted by the other European nations a lot easier than England. Like most islands England has a more isolationist stance on life. The stubborn nature in English society does not lend itself well to dramatic change, and as such any radical alteration is in danger of being viewed with skepticism.
The entire nutrition and performance based training was something English managers were largely unaware of (or at least its degree of importance), and as such in order to reap its benefits managers would have to relinquish the monopoly of control they exuded over training. Foreign coaches and dieticians were employed to instruct players on certain aspects of their routine. Managers were no longer solely in control, and began to share the responsibility with their coaches. This opened the door for managers to ‘move to the office’. Coaches could now be trusted with coaching the players under the manager’s guidelines, something that has become increasingly important as the game and its tactics have developed.
Football has changed with society. Ask anybody in the street if they are part of a social networking website and the answer is almost certainly yes, and this is a key measure of today. The demand is for all news to be instantly available, and media presence has never been more prominent. Managers are largely embroiled in this circus and a great deal of their time is spent satisfying this. It has become a prerequisite of the role that they be able to handle the media through press-conferences, interviews, and even the occasional punditry appearance. The media has even become a weapon for some managers who use it to their advantage by playing mind-games with their opponents, aiding player transfers, and even attempting to influence referees.
Another newly found concept for managers to deal with is the formation of the role known as a director of football or its equivalent. Whereas a manager used to highlight his transfer targets and attempt to sign them, the role of the director of football is primarily to conduct this for them. It results in another relationship being formed as managers have to communicate their requirements and rely on their director of football to fulfill them.
Whilst there are still examples of managers who don their tracksuit and still oversee all aspects of club life, the shift in responsibilities and duties has seen the term ‘Manager’ take on a different meaning than that of previous decades. Society has changed over the years and football has rolled with it. It’s had no choice – without doing so it would have been left behind and found itself unable to compete for fans interest. Managers are no different, as the game has moved, so have they. You may not see them running up and down the touchline like Barry Fry. It’s not that simple. Time constraints and different duties perhaps mean they struggle to have the same bond with players – or at least have more trouble expressing it.
The job may have changed but the passion still remains (it has to, without it football wouldn’t exist). So as fans we have to evolve just as they have. Under it all our managers really are just a tracksuit-clad football hungry ‘Gaffer’ with a presentable shiny corporate wrapper on.
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