With all the high-profile firings and hirings of managers around European soccer over the past few years, one trend that seems to be dominating the scene is the desire for big clubs to focus on motivational managers more than the silent tacticians.
It seems that we have moved on from the days of the manager simply scribbling notes down while on the edge of their seat, instead expecting these typically ageing individuals to prance around on the touchline, looking thoroughly uncomfortable, awkwardly strolling around with their hands buried in crevices of their sweaty pockets or fumbling around with their jacket zippers à la Wenger.
It seems that the highest profile managers in this day and age, the ones really coveted, are those with the reputation and image of being a motivating influence on their players, lighting the fire under the feet of these millionaire playboys as some might put it. This is especially evident with the likes of Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool just to name a couple examples.
These two managers have taken squads full of solid players, certainly a level below the top tier talent in their respective leagues, and managed to compete with the best, often producing their best performances in the biggest games. These rockstar managers are arguably more important in the highly publicized game today, where every mistake and poor performance is amplified by the media.
To a large extent, this trend hasn’t reached certain teams, which in many cases has been truly unfortunate. For example, Manchester United appointed Jose Mourinho this summer, who although very expressive on the touchline, has never had the reputation of being the most motivating of managers under extreme pressure, but rather a tactician on the touchline, moving the pieces around as if engaging in a limelight game of chess against the opposition.
In the case of United, coming out of the van Gaal and Moyes reigns, it seemed obvious that the most important thing was to bring in a manager that would provide both drive and stability to the squad, one that already had the personnel to win a league title. Instead, United have simply thrown money and big names at the problem, the equivalent pounding down quarts of ice cream to make yourself feel better about quitting your diet.
On the other hand, one can look at Chelsea, who suffered the same issue of lacking confidence and desire last season it seemed under both Mourinho and Hiddink, although things improved a bit under the latter, but over the summer employed the former Juventus and Italian manager Antonio Conte, who seems to not only light a fire under his players feet, but rather burn down the whole village, causing himself to even bleed his own blood on the touchline.
Though Chelsea haven’t been perfect to start the season, there is no doubt that the attitude has changed around Stamford Bridge, and that the squad, almost identical to that of last season, has done a complete 180 in terms of devotion to the collective cause.
With teams seemingly accepting that certain formations and systems fit certain leagues (the 4-2-3-1 in England, the 4-3-3 in Spain, etc.), it seems that more and more, the manager’s job at a big club is to motivate and get the best out of each individual and the team as a collective. Maybe we are heading in a direction where sports psychologists will soon make the best managers rather than ex-players and scholars of the game. Though, when it comes right down to it, who really wants to know what goes on in a soccer players mind…