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Opinion

Makes a bloke wonder what the secret ingredient to coaching might be

3 years ago
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Brian Clough; Bob Paisley; Primrose Valley. All great coaches, for different reasons. I remember a cracking school trip on a Primrose Valley coach; we went to Bolam Lake and played football on the hill.

Reading about the techniques, methods, and above all, personalities of coaches, makes a bloke wonder what the secret ingredient to coaching might be.

Is it tactical awareness?

Having a blueprint for success and moulding players into it?

Knowing when to give a star player an ego massage, or make them train with the kids?

Eventually, we stray into management territory, waiting to be picked off by the press, chairman or fans, but there are common traits: Ambition. Vision. Football intelligence.

As FA Cup first round matches were drawn, attention turned to managers at the beginning of careers, managers from the lower leagues who have masterminded success across several ties so far. Do they stick or twist with investments? Do they even have a choice?

We’ve had some genius coaches and managers at Newcastle United over the years, and we’ve had some who thought they were.

We’ve had some who had a system (Sam Allardyce) and some who had a system that was as interesting to watch as watching goalposts grow (Sam Allardyce).

We’ve had managers who had the respect of the footballing world and we’ve had managers who lost it. Hopeless case Graeme Sounness, and the surprisingly naive Ruud Gullit, never managed a big club with much success again. Blaming everyone but yourself is not endearing.

Conversation in the pub last week drifted towards Rafa Benitez. We all know the system, and so do other teams; it just happens to be a system that can work very well. It can be difficult to break down, and can frustrate the opposition, hopefully into mistakes that create space to attack into. While it can be pragmatic and not always great to watch, it can also be very effective, and after a couple of years of not great to watch and not very effective, either, under his predecessors, Rafa’s vision is taking hold.

Now, while a coach works with what he’s got, it could be argued that a manager gets to choose what he works with, too. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had a system years ago in which Taylor could identify players who would fit into Clough’s vision, and when they parted company, the charm and spell were broken. Clough had the force and cult of personality; He was interesting to listen to, even if you disagreed with what he might be saying –or the way he was saying it. In that respect, Jose Mourinho is Clough-esque. He is a bigger distraction than whatever you asked him about in the first place.

Mourinho is sometimes criticised for having bought success; that he would struggle on the budget of those FA Cup first round teams; those without capacious pockets stuffed with novelty sized blank cheques. Well, that may well be true. Is it difficult to identify brilliant players to fit your team? Plenty of cash has been squandered on average Joes over the last few seasons and at several clubs.

And it was this part of the conversation in the pub that brought up an interesting point: not all of Rafa’s signings have made the cut. Not yet.

Well, we don’t know how many have been bought for the future, with the possible sale of more heralded signings in a few months, or hopefully years; we don’t know how many of them were top of Rafa’s shopping list. Sometimes, we all pop out for a pint of milk and a right sided winger, and come home with a defender and a can of peas.

Could the money have been put towards a top end striker? That’s not to denigrate what we have; it’s a comment on perceptions of our summer trip to the shops. At the minute, I bet Everton wish they could gel like we have.

Now, while we’re in a better position than Everton, and better than ourselves two years ago, the stability offered by Benitez and improvement in results on his watch has had an unexpected benefit: genuine -and arguably surprising- warmth from some areas. Garth Crooks, no less, thinks that with the right investment, we could win the Premier League. If you or I said that, we’d be deluded, and Kieron Dyer would write rude words on the white bits of our scarves.

So, with an organised spring in our step, off we go to Burnley.

A team who can be hard to break down. A team with a manager who has a vision, coaching and moulding players into that vision. A team who add up to more than the individual parts. Sound familiar?

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby
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