Coaches become a victim of their own success

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I scored twice for England last night. In my dream.

We were winning 3-2 at half-time. I was talking to a blank faced coach whose impressive dearth of the usual facial features – hair, nose, eyes, etc – made him look like a half-finished Dr Who monster. Then a beeping car horn woke me.

That started me thinking about coaches. An alibi for blame shifting chairmen, a scapegoat for furious fans, the typical football coach is becoming almost as isolated as the referee.

In part, coaches are a victim of their own success. The footballing alchemy of a gifted few has led fans, journalists and directors to expect them all to be superheroes. But are they as important as we all like to believe?

A quick reconnoitre of the big clubs in Europe reveals one thing: most of them haven’t changed in 30 years. For every Chelsea or Lyon, there are five or six Barcelonas, Bayern Munichs, Celtics, Inters, Manchester Uniteds and Real Madrids.

This does suggest that a deeper long term influence on a club’s fortunes may be the stuff we don’t see: the quality of the infrastructure, the excellence of the youth academies, the calibre of the ground staff or – even – the marketing department’s ability to shift themed duvet covers and generate funds which can be reinvested in players or facilities.

Although many of the game’s business managers can’t even spell strategy let alone understand the need for one, it is clear that there is a core of directors and chairmen that do know what they’re doing.

Their leadership, in the long term, may make the difference. Sir Alex Ferguson is a great coach but would he – and United – be where they are today if chairman Martin Edwards hadn’t stuck by him between November 1986 and May 1990 when he won his first trophy, the FA Cup?

Where would United be had Edwards not stuck with Fergie? 

And then there is the small matter of the players. Often caricatured in the press as sex-crazed mercenaries, they can often define a coach’s record.

In Bayern’s heyday, Gerd Muller twice won the Bundesliga almost single-handed, much as Luigi Riva did for Cagliari back in 1969, Diego Maradona for Napoli in the 1980s, the Dutch masters (Gullit and van Basten) did for Milan in 1988/89 and – if United do retain the Premiership – as Cristiano Ronaldo will have done this year.

If a good goalkeeper is said to be worth 10 points a season, how much is a good coach worth? At Chelsea, the changeover of Ranieri and Mourinho delivered 16 extra Premiership points in 2004/05 over 2003/04.

But by 2005/06, the Mourinho dividend had fallen to 12 points and, in 2006/07, it was just four. The Blues won as many games as in 2003/04, scored three less goals, finished in the same position – second – and reached the same stage of the UEFA Champions League. The difference, in the Premiership, was that they were defensively slightly tighter and drew four more games than in Ranieri’s last season.

The Mourinho dividend is, like the man himself, unusually immodest. More typical is the transformation Fabio Capello performed at Real Madrid last season. He won la Liga with 76 points, but in 2005/06, despite firing managers almost as fast as Alan Sugar sacks wannabe apprentices, Real amassed 70 points, scored four more goals than in 2006/07 and conceded exactly as many as they did under the Italian defensive maestro.

The title-winning difference between the two seasons, in hard statistical terms, came down to three games which the madrilenos had drawn in 2005/06 and won in 2006/07. If Barcelona hadn’t dropped six points from their 2005/06 tally, Real would have endured another season without silverware.

The Mourinhos, the Capellos, the Wengers, the Hiddinks and the Fergusons are a successful elite who have proved they can to it at different clubs and in different countries.

But the vast majority of coaches like Luigi Del Neri, who steered Chievo’s Flying Donkeys briefly into Europe, have one successful spell which they struggle to recreate wherever else they go. Even Marcello Lippi, a genius at Juve and with the Azzurri, looked to have developed clay feet in a brief, dire spell at Inter.

I’m not saying coaches are irrelevant. But the case that what they do is an easily transferable skill that can cross borders and club cultures remains unproven. Only Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld have won the European Cup with different clubs. Only five coaches have won the Italian league with two different clubs. Only three coaches have steered different clubs to the title in England: Brian Clough, Kenny Dalglish and Herbert Chapman.

Jose and Arsene have enjoyed success in more than one country

In business management, it is a cliché that managers can only affect 10% of the factors that determine their success and the cult of the star CEO – often bought in from outside and, just as often, misfiring spectacularly – is now on the wane.

Football needs to rethink the way it hires coaches. Too many clubs plump for inappropriate star coaches who often don’t fit – possibly because they come in insisting on revolutionary change when a fix here and there might do. Others are content to recycle experienced failures.

The personality appointment – picking a charismatic player with no hands-on coaching experience – went out of favour when Bryan Robson’s coaching career nosedived. This approach may come back into favour if Klinsmann is deemed to ‘turn around’ Bayern although, given that they are currently on track to win the Bundesliga with 72 points (two more than Stuttgart, last season’s winners) it is hard to see Klinsi delivering a Mourinho-sized dividend.

The simple answer might be to learn from business and grow your own.

Not in the Sammy Lee buggins turn way. But in the kind of structured way Milan groomed Carlo Ancelotti. And remember, as Lord Melbourne once said, that “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary to change”.

It is easy to fire coaches. That doesn’t make it right. I saw the proof at Fulham last Saturday. In football, overnight success, despite what the media will tell you, very rarely happens overnight.