Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ranting Managers

Now that the drama, heartache and impending sense of doom surrounding all things Argylian has dissipated I find my thoughts turning to the rather more mundane issues that crop up from time to time in football and my beady eye alights upon the perceived behaviour of managers as they watch their teams.

There is nothing new in the development of my thoughts on this issue but, I suppose, I am a little inspired by Argyle's forthcoming FA cup 1st round replay at Stourbridge. As we eagerly await the televised match at the plucky non-leaguer's tiny ground next week I am reminded of a similar trip that we made to Dagenham & Redbridge back when Paul Sturrock was our manager and D&R were still a non-league team. A quick trip to the ever-excellent Greens On Screen provides these match details of that, for us, ill-fated evening more than 8 years ago:

14 Jan 2003
FA Cup 3rd Round (replay)
Attendance: 4530

Dagenham & Redbridge 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Argyle's line-up that day: Romain Larrieu, David Worrell, Paul Wotton, Graham Coughlan, Lee Hodges, Steve Adams, David Friio, David Norris, Mickey Evans, Ian Stonebridge, Marino Keith. Subs: Blair Sturrock, Jason Bent,Martin Phillips.

That is pretty much as close to a fabled "Team Of Legends" as Argyle can name. That same squad was responsible for a meteoric rise through two divisions, both won in no little style as Champions, and yet on that night they were humiliated by relatively mediocre and unfancied opposition. And that humiliation was made worse by being one of the few times that we featured as a live televised game.

It was poor game, as I recall (aren't they all when you lose?), and we were deservedly beaten so there's no excuses to be made and most certainly no mournful cries of "we wuz robbed". From our point of view the evening was memorable, once the pain of our obvious humiliation is put to one side, for only two things: 1) A succession of gilt-edged chances that was squandered by Marino Keith; 2) Paul Sturrock's demure body language as he sat huddled in the corner of the dugout watching the horror story unfold.

Keith's profligacy is not the focus of this piece but Sturrock's demeanour that evening is. With the taste of an unpleasant defeat fresh in our mouths the response from sections of the fanbase was furious in its disapproval: "he just sat there and did nothing" and other similar responses abounded. And the observation is accurate. All he did was sit and watch.

Defeat puts a microscope on every last detail though. That was pretty much Sturrock's modus operandi whilst he was with us. Touchline extravagances were not for him and he managed us to unprecedented and, quite frankly, unexpected success the likes of which we, as a club, had never seen before and have not seen since.
Sturrock left and was replaced by Bobby Williamson. He was another that was relatively undemonstrative as he sat on the touchline. He was another that, for various reasons, attracted huge disapproval from sections of the support and it was with no little glee that supporters acclaimed a hard-earned 0-0 at Southampton achieved in Tony Pulis's first game. His modus operandi was very different: all chavved-up in club training kit and baseball cap he conspicuously stood alone in the technical area and shouted and pointed and complained to anybody who would listen. He was very obviously "in charge" and involved. He did not just stand, or sit, and watch. Argyle's support, almost to the last person, purred its approval: "that's what a proper manager does".

Apart from offering a chance for the fans to enjoy some great theatre just what does the ranting manager achieve? He must get right on the tits of the match officials for a start so does he influence decisions positively for his side or just instill a siege-mentality in the match officials who decide that they aren't going to give him a damned thing unless they have to?

And so it goes on... Rafa Benitez used to gesticulate extravagantly but his message was never clear ~ not to me at least. Shouting instructions can't be very effective either amidst the hullabaloo that surrounds any important occasion in a big stadium and surely disaster awaits if the message is only partially received and misinterpreted which must happen as often as not.

To be honest I would rather see a manager study the game as it unfolds and keep a cool head as he does so and I'd prefer to see a manager exude control and authority rather than temper and dissent and leave the displays of passion to a fist-pumper out on the pitch. Sir Alex Ferguson often does little more than furiously chew gum and look at his watch and he can hardly be criticised as being ineffective as a manager, can he?

We all want to ascribe some kind of supernatural prescience to our team's manager and to acclaim his ability to influence the progress of a game but it is not a manager's body language on the touchline that gets results for a team; it is the whole decision-making process all the way through from overall club strategy, player/personnel recruitment, effective training and coaching, pre-match choice of tactics and team selection that impacts on results far, far more. Unfortunately fans never really get to actually see any of that and so they latch on to what they can see and what they can see confirms a thought that they all know to be true but would much rather not entertain: it is largely all down to the players once they cross the whitewashed touchline.