It’s been a while since my last post as I’ve been away preparing to take the logical next step for every engineer. Get an MBA. Because if you don’t have one, are you even an engineer? But let’s not go there..
What my preparation did teach me though, is that Human Resources isn’t simply meant to be a shoulder on which the top management rests its gun as it annihilates the minions. Man management or ‘personality’ management (just so that all allegations of sexism can be kept at bay) is an integral part of any leader’s success. Or failure for that matter. Just ask Andre Villas Boas.
I was one of the many people who actually rated him quite highly after his exploits with Porto. When he arrived at Chelsea I truly had great hopes for him and the club. And when he was sacked, obviously John Terry was to blame. Everything that goes wrong at that club somehow seems traceable back to JT’s mischief. But after failing at Tottenham it became clear that AVB had a serious problem convincing the players to buy in to his ideology. The old guard’s stubbornness could be blamed at Chelsea, but at Spurs he was building his own team. The stories of unrest, his volatility in the press and seemingly absurd expulsion of Emmanuel Adebayor to the reserves/ junior team, all pointed to an inability to deal with strong personalities. Although to be fair, Adebayor’s mental age is that of a 5 year old Mario Balotelli. Luck is mostly just good timing, and that’s exactly what Tim Sherwood had. He came in at a time when Spurs had already been thrashed by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, so it couldn’t get much worse. All he had to do was bring back the Togolese who now had a point to prove. And we all know how far he will go to do that. Literally. Just ask Arsenal fans. 103 yards I believe it was. Sherwood had an impressive start to his reign but then seemed to run out of the steam that is fuelled by a change in management and all the promise it brings.
The point is this. There’s a reason he’s called the manager and not just the coach. He is in charge of far more than just tactics. An astute tactician will have success with smaller clubs and achieve moderate goals. However, as the stakes are raised, so are the egos. Only the best achieve the best. The problem is when the players not only think they are the best, but also that they know best. That’s where a manager must step in and make decisions that are in the long term interest of the club. Gerardo Martino and Diego Simeone typify this dichotomy. While Martino took charge of a team that has been touted as one of the best in history, Simeone took over at Atletico in December. That itself should tell you all you need to know. Atleti were diabolical almost. You could bet your house on them blowing it. For cricket fans, they were the quintessential South Africa. Brilliant and dynamic one day, and completely lifeless the next. Diego Simeone had the fans’ support and molded the team in his image as a player. Tough to beat, beating up tough people, and doing a great job all round of causing great discomfort to anyone who confronts them. Martino on the other hand had the friendly uncle vibe with the players. He was trying to fit in as an outsider. Something the Catalan club hadn’t had since the departure of Frank Rijkaard five years earlier. While results went his way, there was a lot of dissent about his playing style. There is said to have been a meeting sometime in December when a senior player demanded things be done a certain way. Whether there is truth to this or not, the general atmosphere around the club hasn’t been right and the players have been affected by it. Tata, for his part, has been unable to insulate them from the vitriol which you could consider a failing. Both teams now sit on the precipice of great euphoria. They are equally close to disastrous tragedy. But whatever happens, Simeone will have proven to be a success and not least for having changed the mentality of Club Atletico de Madrid. They hadn’t beaten Real Madrid for fourteen years. Then they went to the Bernebeu for the Copa del Rey final, and won. That was the defining moment for this team and they never looked back since.
Skipping back across the channel, in the Northwest of England there was another odd couple of managers who showed just how important it is to have the players tweet only good stuff about you. David Moyes took over at Old Trafford while Brendan Rodgers prepared his Liverpool side to bid for a Champions League spot. Fast forward 9 months and Rodgers is praying for West Ham to beat City so that everyone can forget that absolutely heart wrenching Steven Gerrard slip, while Moyes will be watching the final day of the season from the comfort of his lazy boy. The contrast between the two teams was clear as day when they played each other. On one hand, the Merseysiders were playing their heart out for their manager. On the other, you had David Moyes trying to figure out how Sir Alex made Phil Jones look world class while Rio Ferdinand tweeted about how the manager needed to be buying his ‘5’ caps. Brendan Rodgers has managed to galvanize this Liverpool team and Ferguson-esque move, made Jordan Henderson look worth the money. He has got the most out of a team that on paper, should be no higher than fourth. United on the other hand, are about where they should be. Especially if they’re going to play Juan Mata wide on the right. But thats a sob story for another day.
There are a number of other examples this season where it has been evident that the manager has either been able to inspire his troops to outperform their rivals or has completely failed to win their confidence and subsequently failed. Manuel Pellegrini too, to a certain extent is a testament to excellent personality management. He has got a group of superstars to sacrifice themselves for the cause. City are now favorites for the title despite having been in patchy form away from home and having to keep up with a 11 game winning streak from Liverpool. That doesn’t just happen with a team performing as a sum of their parts. This year, there has been far less drama about City, with everyone in the camp seemingly happy. Considering the fact the Pellegrini’s English was as good as my Spanish when he first started there, it is all the more commendable that he has got this team to play for him.
No article about man management can be complete without a mention of Harry Redknapp (at least not if your hoping for some eyeballs from England). He seemed to make a conscious decision to ignore the tactics board completely, favoring instead the tried and tested technique of putting an arm around the player’s shoulder to get him to play the way he wanted. While it was definitely not as bad as that, there is no doubt that Harry placed far greater importance on team spirit and inspiration than tactics and worrying about whether to play with three or four at the back. It has proved to be largely successful too, regardless of the fact that he is currently unemployed. Maybe after this season, and more importantly, this article, someone will offer him a job. I hear the hot seat at White Hart Lane is currently empty. Wonder if he’d be interested..