Saturday, May 21

Superclubs lack patience for rookies like Arteta and Lampard to learn on the job | Jonathan Wilson | Football

meEverybody wants their own Pep Guardiola. That is the dream. You take a club legend just starting his coaching career, put him in charge of the reserves for a season, give him the top spot, and then watch him revolutionize soccer with a team based on products from the academy and win. three league titles and two Champions Leagues. . It’s not just winning, but winning your way.

That’s why so many top clubs have turned to former players with limited or no first-hand management experience: Juventus with Andrea Pirlo, Chelsea with Frank Lampard, Arsenal with Mikel Arteta. It fosters the exceptionalist dream that underlies much of what it is to support a club, the feeling that you are different, better, more worthy than others, and it is good for the brand, to take a popular and recognizable figure to sell that feeling .

Andrea Pirlo with Juventus players, including Cristiano Ronaldo

Andrea Pirlo (second from left) has been appointed coach of his former club, Juventus, with no managerial experience. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco / EPA

The problem for all these rookies is similar: while they may have good ideas and have spent most of their lives around soccer, they are essentially learning on the job and doing it in light of publicity.

They’ve been to locker rooms and training grounds, they’ve worked with a variety of coaches and managers, they have some idea of ​​what works and what doesn’t, what will motivate players and what will demoralize them, but being a student doesn’t. is. just enough to become a good teacher.

If things go wrong, then what? They don’t have many memories to draw on. They can’t look back to that moment, say, Huddersfield when they had that rocky patch but they got over it, in Extremadura when they dropped their best striker and found the rest of the team became more focused or on St Mirren when they did. which the manager suggested and regretted forever.

So it’s easy to lose faith, start questioning, and make changes almost for the sake of changes. When Arteta suddenly played Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the middle and began to babble self-protectively about the percentage chance of winning games, her self-confidence and authority were almost visibly seeping from him.

The problem then is where that experience should accumulate. Pointing out that Herbert Chapman started at Northampton or Arrigo Sacchi at Fusignano or Alex Ferguson at East Stirlingshire feels almost irrelevant given how different the game was then.

The gulf between the top and bottom was not nearly as stark as it is now. Liverpool, Leeds and Nottingham Forest were Second Division teams when Bill Shankly, Don Revie and Brian Clough took over. Matt Busby joined the Manchester United job directly after training in the army during WWII, but when he took over they had won two league titles and none for more than 30 years. So a visionary manager could transform a mid-range team into a giant.

However, if he takes over a championship team now, the benefits seem limited. For a former top-tier player, the style of soccer will not be very familiar. You will work with players who are not capable of doing the things that you and your teammates could. Perhaps there are problems that the world in general does not know about or does not care about. They don’t promote you; you are seen as a failure.

Or maybe you get promoted and you spend the next several years struggling to survive on a tight budget. In the end, the inevitable happens and you sink, to be forgotten or at least doubted, like Eddie Howe. Or you survive and get pigeonholed as Sean Dyche or Sam Allardyce, especially if you’ve decided that a direct approach is the best way to play for your limited team.

Being able to operate on a tight budget, keep players on a losing streak, win a brave point against far superior opponents is not a real preparation for handling the egos of famous players, devising a coordinated attack strategy to overwhelm the crowd. mass. You stand up for the weaker sides that regularly oppose you, and satisfy fans and directors hoping to entertain themselves or deal with the complexity of a match roster that involves regular long-distance travel.

As a Manchester City manager put it long ago, considering whether the club should have fired Joe Royle as soon as it promoted him to the Premier League in 2000: “You don’t put the guy who runs a multinational corner store in charge. “.

Steven Gerrard in the Rangers

Steven Gerrard is enjoying success in Scotland at Rangers, but Gary Neville’s foray into management in Spain didn’t work out so well. Photograph: Ian MacNicol / Getty Images

Or you could go to a different league, which right now seems to be working for Steven Gerrard at Rangers but not Gary Neville at Valencia. But that brings the complication of operating in a different culture, the lessons of which may not be directly applicable in a return to the Premier League.

The alternative is to gain practical experience as a coach working under the direction of a superclub coach, the route Arteta took at Manchester City. There are countless assistants who have struggled to step forward, the benefits of immediate elite soccer experience outweighed by never being the final decision maker, never the one in the firing line.

That means that whatever route you take, there will always be an element of learning on the job. However, the nature of modern football is to fire the coach at the first sign of trouble. It’s an impatient world struggling with the idea that someone could correct what went wrong. Sacrifice is preferred to incremental development.

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What exactly does what? That all managers deserve a certain level of patience? Probably, while it may just as quickly become apparent, some just don’t fit, and there is clearly a point after a year or two where it is not unreasonable to expect that some noticeable progress has been made.

But perhaps the most obvious lesson is that the financial structures of modern football make the idea of ​​constant progression unfeasible and it is likely that very few people taking over a superclub for the first time have had the proper preparation. Guardiola is an understandable ideal, but he is also unique.

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