How To Find The Right Coach Or Manager?

In one week last month, the British newspapers reported on names in the running to be the new Chelsea coach. Pep Guardiola, it was reported in some quarters, will be offered a contract worth £40 million ($63M) after tax, while The Times reported that Laurent Blanc was the front-runner. Jose Mourinho is still a target, claimed the Daily Mail, while The Mirror had Marcelo Bielsa snubbing an approach, via intermediaries, from Roman Abramovich. Four coaches, all at the top of their profession: but each with totally different philosophies and visions about how the game should be played, how their players should be treated, and, presumably, how they would approach their role if they worked at Stamford Bridge.

That quartet, all of whom figure prominently in bookmakers' lists for the next Chelsea coach, reminded us of the shortlist that two other clubs had when they were looking for a coach last summer. On the Inter Milan list were: Gianpiero Gasperini, Fabio Capello, and Bielsa (well, he's flavor of the month right now); Aston Villa also had a list and on it were: Steve McClaren, Alex McLeish, Rafa Benitez and Roberto Martinez. In both cases, each coach seems almost seems a direct opposite of the others.

We are reminded of these discrepancies almost every time a new job comes up.

Last Friday, for example, it was reported that the English FA would soon be speaking to two candidates about taking charge at Euro 2012: Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp. Both have their strengths, certainly, but are very different in outlook and approach.

The dilemma facing Manchester City's board this summer, if United keep their Premier League lead and win the title, might center on whether to keep Roberto Mancini in charge; who, if anyone, would do a better job, while keeping in line with the club's quest for global reach and acceptance?

This last point is important: as Graham Hunter pointed out in his wonderful book, Barca: The Making of The Greatest Team in the World, Mourinho was interviewed for the coach's position before Guardiola was appointed, but insisted that part of his role was to act as a provocateur. It was not the image that Barcelona wanted to portray, and so they looked elsewhere.

So: what goes into the thinking behind appointing a coach, and do these clubs know something that we don't?

Succession planning

It seems obvious, as it goes on at the top-level of most businesses, but many clubs seem to have no idea who they want as their next coach while its current one is still there. This happened to Wolves last month: after sacking Mick McCarthy, owner Steve Morgan failed to agree terms with Alan Curbishley or Steve Bruce and, two weeks later, appointed McCarthy's assistant Terry Connor. Wolves fans are furious that there was no Plan B and, with one draw and five losses from Connor's first six games, the club's status in the Premier League looks under greater threat than if McCarthy had stayed.

The decision can often depend on the nature of the search: if a job is available because one coach has overachieved (and upgraded to a bigger job), then the criteria involved might focus on the outgoing coach's strengths. This clearly helped Swansea City, whose recent managers (Martinez, Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers) have adhered to the same approach.

If the players were used to a training-ground coach, who was out there every day, then club should look for something similar. The club should also place a premium on candidates that already have a similar league experience because a club could not afford to have a bad six months while a new man bedded in. So it's true: short-term thinking is not just a media construct.

Advice from the right people

Aston Villa used headhunters before the appointment of Gerard Houllier as coach, and this method is being used more and more. Advice from an expert, preferably an independent one (harder than you might think to find in football), is increasingly welcomed, while recommendations, from other CEOs, ex-coaches or players (and agents, though not as often as they would like), are also sought. The ideal shortlist should come from the following combination:
"Anyone who stands out who the club thinks will fits it's vision for the future, even if the potential candidates have made no application for the job, as well as those from independent recommendations, and of course those who applied directly. That list should ideally have candidates with overlapping skill-sets, and that can only come with doing the right due diligence."
Again, it depends what kind of coach does the team/club needs: just like players, there are some out there who are good "impact coaches" able to provide a short-term improvement in results but whose methods only work in short bursts; others who are better with long-term projects.

Does reputation matter?

The higher up the football pyramid you go, the harder it is to not base an appointment on a coach's reputation. If you are a big club, the expectation is to pick a big name, and if that fails, then the coach, rather than the man who picked him, can be blamed. That's why Arsenal's decision to appoint Wenger, who had won the French title with Monaco but at that time was in the relative backwater at Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, was brave and brilliant.

Wenger himself has hinted that Arsenal might go back to Nagoya and look at its current coach Dragan Stojkovic, a playmaker under Wenger in the 1990s, as his possible successor. "I'd love Piksi (Stojkovic, nicknamed after a cartoon character) to be my successor. His football philosophy is almost identical to mine. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football," Wenger was quoted as telling Croatian paper Vecernje Novosti last year.

The example of Paul Sturrock is a good one when it comes to reputations. His Premier League coaching career lasted 13 games at Southampton in 2004: he won five of them but fell out with chairman Rupert Lowe and has never coached in the top-flight since - despite winning promotions with Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon, and taking Plymouth to its highest position for 20 years. That fallout with Lowe seemed to have damaged his status at the top level. His current club Southend, in the League Two playoff places, are the latest beneficiaries. Sturrock's achievement and accomplishment has been ignored by big clubs although he consistently improve teams that he coached. Unfortunately he is not the only victim of reputation, the list goes on.

It's much easier to make a sensible decision and not take a risk with an appointment, because doing anything outside the norm would increase the pressure on the club. Sometimes, as proved by Arsenal and Wenger, it is worth the risk.

What actually happens at job interviews?

Just as no one talks about what really goes on in the dressing-room, the coach's job interview contents are not for divulging. One of the question is to ask for an example of a match that best showed his work (this is a difficult one to answer: if the game turned on a substitution, then was the original lineup wrong or was it a premeditated switch?), another for three things they would change if they came to that club.

The most important part of the interview, it seems, is for each party to find out if they have or can see themselves developing a rapport with each other. Cut through the bluster, look behind the promises - of cash to spend (from the club), new formations to implement (from the coach) - and is there chemistry? It can be that simple: that's why Wigan owner Dave Whelan refuses to sack Martinez: he likes him. These are two men whose fates are inextricably linked, and neither can afford the other to fail.

Source: The Times, The Mirror, Daily Mail, Financial Times

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