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footie managers

first published on oilzine.com

N.I. Sports Ltd. and HotGen Studios have announced plans to launch the UK’s biggest online football management game endorsed by Sky Sports.

"Sky Sports Football Manager" will be a subscription-based service. Versions of the game will be distributed both online and at retail. Sky Sports Football Manager will offer players the chance to manage their favourite English team complete with transfers, suspensions, injuries, promotions and accurate statistics on thousands of worldwide professional footballers. Online connectivity allows players to compete against other human and computer based managers through each season with the ultimate aim of becoming Sky Sports Football Manager of the Year.

To celebrate this development and help you in your play, Stephen has investigated the question of

"What makes a successful manager?"

Ah, the $64,000 question. If we knew exactly the answer to that then we'd be a rich man, a very rich man. You could work as a consultant to the top clubs in Europe, or just the richest, and tell them exactly who to employ.

The success of a manager, like it or not, is often down to circumstance. The line between success and failure is as thin as the hair on Christian Gross' head (and the clichés as witty as Ron Atkinson).

As much as most people dislike him, you have to admit that the most successful manager of the last 15 years is Alex Ferguson. But remember how close Ferguson was to being sacked? Yes, of course you do, as it's always mentioned in these types of articles (I'm only mentioning it to illustrate a point). A Mark Robbins goal saved him from the chop. In some cup game or other - apparently (as the Internet informs me) it was a narrow 1:0 FA Cup quarterfinal win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground during the 1989/90 season. Before this, he was on the verge of getting his P45, up to the vote of confidence stage. In fact, earlier that season Man United fans had shown a banner saying "Three years of excuses - Ta'ra Fergie". Oooh, don't they have egg on their faces now.

Thankfully, for the purposes of this article he did get the sack from St Mirren in 1978. Can't actually find out why, a Scottish mate tells me that he and the chairman didn't get on too well (update - he apparently gave the Saints players a bonus payment, which the board didn't authorise - thanks to www.thebuds.co.uk for info ) Intriguing.

So why the sack at St Mirren, but reprieve at Man U? What does make someone a successful manager? What is the difference between Bobby and Bryan Robson? Where does John Barnes stop and Martin O'Neill begin?

"It's the players that make a good manager."

While it undoubtedly helps a manager to have quality players, it often doesn't work out like that. A prime example is Wycombe Wanderers, who reached the FA Cup semi-final this season, and very nearly progressed further. On the way they beat teams with 'better' players: Harrow Borough (well maybe not), Millwall, Grimsby, Wolves, Wimbledon and Leicester, before narrowly losing to Liverpool 2-1. The Liverpool team was:

Westerveld - Holland, 6 caps
Henchoz - Switzerland, 44 caps
Zeige - Germany, 59 caps
Babbel - Germany, 51 caps
Fowler - England, 18 caps
Owen - England, 29 caps
Hyypia - Finland, 39 caps
Hamann - Germany, 32 caps
Barmby - England, 19 caps
McAllister - Scotland, 57 caps
Carragher - England, 3 caps


Heskey - England, 16 caps (61mins for Ziege)
Murphy - England U-21, 5 caps (81mins for Owen)
Gerrard - England, 5 caps (51mins for Barmby)¹

Of Wycombe's team, only 3 had played top-flight football, and only Guy Whittingham can really be called a household name. Yet, they nearly upset the apple cart. How?

Often when a new manager comes to a club following a sacking (i.e. the team's in trouble), he instantly turns their fortunes around, with the same players that were 'rubbish' a week before. This brings us onto the next theory.

"Motivation is the key."

Ah, gone are the days of teacups flying around the dressing room, now with the advent of foreign managers it's all to do with psychology and a softer, more gentle approach. Wenger, Houllier, Ranieri, they've brought in new methods to motivate their teams. But is the old-fashioned method really dead?

If we look at Wycombe again for a moment (I'm not a Chairboy, honest). How is it that they got so far in the competition? Probably the main reason is their manager, Lawrie Sanchez. An ex-'crazy gang' member, he has been brought up with a spirit of 'you've got to lift your horizons. If you aim low, you'll never get high'. He was given a sense of belief, that he was as good as Robson, McMahon, Reid etc. Did that belief just appear one day over his cornflakes? (Rhetorical question) As he says, it was his manager, Dave Bassett who told him this. He told him to fight his way to the top, as he did to the whole of the Wimbledon team. And it worked, brilliantly. They won the 4th Division championship in 1982/83. Promotion to the 2nd Division followed immediately and, after a years rest, promotion to the 1st Division came in 1985/86.

But what if you don't believe or respect your manager? Now you do have problems. This is where the flying crockery enters the equation.

Bradford City (come on you Bantams) recently appointed a new manager, Jim Jeffries. He came with a reputation. He's a softly spoken man, he conducts himself very professionally in interviews, he has a pleasant haircut, but he's a man who allegedly once picked up a player by the throat at half-time because he wasn't playing very well (the player went on to score two in the second half). He is an old-fashioned 'motivator'. You will do as he says, or you will be out of the door, possibly headfirst.

This made a pleasant change from the previous manager, Chris Hutchings, who, it appeared, couldn't motivate a sardine. He is a nice guy, and has proved himself to be a very able coach. But boy, did that team not play well. They were a (relatively) expensively assembled side of 'star' players, but the problem was that they just didn't seem to want to compete. Which is a sin at Valley Parade.

"Get your chequebook out."

A modern myth. Ask Blackburn, Middlesborough, and Chelsea. All have, at times, deep pockets, but have failed to beat, even lost to teams will only meagre resources: teams like Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, and Bradford City.

Blackburn's 1998/99 squad (which ended up being relegated) contained the likes of £7,250,000 Kevin Davies, £5,300,000 Christian Dailly, £5,000,000 Chris Sutton and 10 other players each costing more than £1,000,000. The mean average sum paid for a player in that squad being £1,691,962 (and 42p)². While I admit that a decent 1st division player now costs nearly £1million, and a good one over a £million, this is still a lot of money.

If we go back to the Wimbledon promotion run of 4 divisions in 4 years, they achieved this although they had spent very little money (even at that time).

"Get a master tactician"

Prince Albert is usually credited with introducing the Christmas tree to Britain. Wrong, it was El-Tel.

Terry Venables is supposedly the master of tactics in this country (England). When he took England to the Euro '96 semi-finals, suddenly everyone dahn the boozer was discussing the merits of 3-5-2 vs. 4-4-2. Yeah, like they know what they're on about. Most people's exposure to formations has come from Championship Manager 2 (I personally favour 4-3-2-1, using two old-fashioned inside forwards behind a 'big man'. I feel it gives support to both the midfield and striker, and you also get the width, which is nice. This might be complete bollocks, but it looks good on the screen). Anyhow, back to Terry.

Terry is one of the few British coaches to have made any impact on the continent, which obviously gives him a great deal of respect on this side of the channel. He is held up by the quality British media and ITV as being a genius on the pitch. Sure it seemed to work with Middlesborough (compared to Bryan Robson), Tottenham played very nice football (but won little), Barcelona (ditto), Crystal Palace, twice (ditto, ditto), Portsmouth...

So what exactly has he done to earn this reputation? To me his reputation seems to have been built on appearing to the public next to 'bumbling idiots'. The aforementioned Robson, the ITV pundits, Gascoigne, Jimmy Hill. His 'master' tactics revolve around packing the midfield out 3-5-2, rather like 'boring' George Graham. Why then is Venables a 'master' tactician and Graham 'boring'? This is the crux of Tel's character; he's a geezer, a crafty cockney, a wide-boy. He manages like he played, with style and repartee.

Tactics are undoubtedly important, a good manager can change the course of a game with a slight manoeuvre of positioning, a substitution, but I feel a lot is made of tactics, and there is a time to stop fiddling and just let it happen.

"So what does make a successful manager?"

Well, all of the above in the right combination. What is that combination? I don't know. That's why I am writing about it and not doing it.

I suggest that the ability to pick the right players is vital (both on match-day and prospective signings), tactics are of importance, but you must have faith in your system. Money can help a great deal but is probably the least important: you can buy the best players in the world, but with out the other ingredients you won't be able to do anything.

The three main things that make a manager are: Motivation. For reasons I've already mentioned. Can conquer all comers, on a regular basis. But you do need both luck, and enough time. Don't expect them, just greet them, thank them and get on with it.

Remember Fergie and Mark Robins.

Good luck.

The Sky Sports Football Manager programme and the game statistics can be kept current through online updates. The game has also been specifically designed to exploit emerging wireless and digital technologies to expand players’ accessibility and gaming experience.

The service, which combines a standalone program running on a PC with an integrated website for content and community operations, will launch in the UK in August. Billing, customer care and online support will be managed by N.I. Sports, with Intel providing a fully managed hosting environment.

Bernard Dugdale, General Manager of N.I. Sports said "In the past, football management games have enjoyed tremendous success – but you have never played them like this before. Our players can choose their favourite team, whether it’s Manchester United or Exeter City. They play against other human players and against the computer – it’s a genuinely multi-user experience where players can use their skill, knowledge and management abilities to see how good they really are at managing their club."

¹ Information found from the respective national FA sites. See www.uefa.org/uefa/structure/associations/

² web.singnet.com.sg/~brgutton/bb.html

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all text + design © Stephen Pryke