English Premier League

Mancini City: The Dark Art of Coaching

As Mike posted earlier, Manchester City punished Mark Hughes for having inferior hair failing to lead the Citizens into the top 4 less than half a season after a 200 million pound spending spree. Ironically, Hughes was fired after winning a game in which the player who arguably* made him appear to be the prettiest pony in the coaching stable at Blackburn, Roque Santa Cruz, scored his first two City goals.

Only hours later, Roberto Mancini was named manager of Manchester City. Mancini was a winner at Inter Milan but was let go because his teams floundered in the Champions League. Mancini’s objective this year is clear: Silverware of any kind and a place in European competition next year.

Footy managers are unique among sporting leaders. In American football, the coach is almost a chessmaster, changing schemes and personnel after every snap. Hockey coaches change their lines almost every minute, angling for the matchup that can exert extended pressure on the opponent’s goal. Baseball managers are somewhat more limited in that players who exit the game cannot return, but at least they can use their entire bench if necessary. Only in soccer do you have a substitution limit, which severely limits the power of the manager to effect a match.

Last season, Tottenham was so certain that Harry Redknapp would reverse their dismal fortunes that they paid Portsmouth 5 million pounds for his services. Almost magically, Harry the Red-Nosed Rainman began accumulating points left and right, and currently has Tottenham vying for a European spot this year. Unfortunately, the reason Redknapp’s services were required involved a run of terrible form under supposed miracle worker Juande Ramos, brought in at great expense from Seville.

The Los Angeles Galaxy offer an even more poignant example of the weight of a good coach. The acquisition of David Beckham did not turn the Galaxy into a competitive team, but a coaching change that brought in Bruce Arena did.

Many of you readers are former/current soccer players, and we have all had our good and bad leaders. My own personal experiences run the gamut from coaches who I would give up pizza for to men who reduced me to frustrated tears. And even then, I was but one player on a team that had its own collective ups and downs under each coach. Beyond identifying the best system for his players or, in many stubborn cases, the best players for his system, what should a coach or manager do? Has a coach or manager significantly influenced how you play or understand the beautiful game?

Let’s talk about it in the comments.

English Premier League Managers short bios – pt. 1

English Premier League Managers short bios – pt. 2

*Not really arguably. The Santa Cruz signing was either brilliant or an incredible stroke of luck. It gave a goal-shy Blackburn squad full of wingers and outside backs a towering titan of a center forward who is rivaled by only John Carew and Fernando Torres for pure aerial skill now that Cristiano Ronaldo (yes, he is good in the air too) is crashing his Ferraris elsewhere.

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  1. I was recently making the argument that footie coaches actually have more influence on their teams’ success or failure than do coaches of most other team sports, precisely because they aren’t able to have much direct control over events during games. American football coaches, for instance, have many opportunities to influence a game, by calling plays, making substitutions, managing the clock, etc., but football is still a game about players executing specific tasks on each down. Soccer, however, has relatively few opportunities for set plays, and equally few stoppages for the coach to direct the players en masse–it is a fluid game that requires all eleven players to stay on the same page for 90+ minutes, and that only happens if the coach has instilled in them a coherent system within which to play. (It’s true that a team of talented individuals can perform at a high level without a coach’s direction, but most teams get the best out of the talent available to them by playing with a plan.) The better the coach, the better the team will execute the system, and the more discipline they will display in sticking to it when things go sour. Which is why Mark Hughes got sacked. No team with that much talent should draw eight games in a row, but they so often look like less than the sum of their parts, and that’s down to the coach.

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