IIn recent weeks, several coaches have been absent from matches due to positive Covid tests, with Pep Guardiola and Sean Dyche being the last to leave large holes on the bench. Personally, I always missed my coach when he was away, but this is not the same for all players.
At this stage of the season, players will know what their coach wants from them on the field because they are training every day to hone their craft and perfect tactics. The relentless nature of the schedule means that it is quite difficult to make major changes between games. Only minor adjustments are made to lineups and styles, but managers they are still crucial to the team environment.
In my experience, certain players would take liberties in training if a coach was absent, doing things they knew would not get away with in the presence of the person in charge, but this did not leak into games. On the other hand, I spoke with a former Manchester United player who told me that he redoubled his efforts in training if Sir Alex Ferguson was not there because he was afraid the information would get to the coach that he had been loafing, fully aware that Ferguson knew everything. what happened, whether it was present or not.
A coach is unlikely to tell a player something he doesn’t know on game day, but his aura is what I missed inside a locker room and on the sidelines. If you look at Jürgen Klopp, for example, he hangs out on the pitch before the game, watching the opponents warm up and his energetic style awakens the crowd and the players. Without him hanging around the touchline, Anfield and the team would be a very different proposition.
Inside a locker room, the manager will have authority, or at least should, and can use it to bring peace of mind, especially at halftime. Players get very excited after the first 45 minutes, whether things are going good or bad, and they need that calm to get back down and regain focus. I played for Arsenal with Vik Akers, who worked closely with Arsène Wenger, and had the great reassuring ability to bring the players back to balance.
Managers are often enigmatic characters, they are people you want to play for. I am sure that the players have signed for Liverpool because of the person who is Klopp and the same as Pep Guardiola in Manchester City. Emma Hayes was one of the key reasons I joined Chelsea; He wanted to play for the club, but it is his dream and vision that drives him. She knew me from working together at the Chicago Red Stars and was clear about the role she recruited me to play. When she wasn’t there, she might not have that connection to the assistant or other staff members.
I didn’t need her in games, but I missed her when she wasn’t there, for the security she offered me. I remember Emma was absent when we won the Women’s Super League in Chelsea in 2018 due to her pregnancy. We had to do a video call with her after the game to celebrate, which is a bit different than traditional costume celebrations.
Those left in charge for the day must be strong characters to cope without the person they and the players could turn to when things don’t go well. As a player, you are only as strong as your physical therapists, doctors, managers, coaches and even the set-play specialist, because they give you victories. It is important that the assistant knows what he is doing and is strong enough to stand up to the additional scrutiny.
Some managers can be quite controlling and not delegating, but if they have a good staff they should be trusted by the manager, which should help if they are ever absent. Any disruption in routine can cause a problem for teams and put them on the defensive before kicking a ball, so minimizing the impact on players is key, and strong backroom staff can guarantee this.
Thanks to technology, a coach can be in constant contact with his coaching staff during a match he is not in, reducing the effects of his absence. When watching on television, they will have a different perspective than those on the sidelines, and that can be very helpful. I will notice things on television that I would not have seen if I was in the stadium.
Match days have changed over the years. When I was starting out, the coach would give his pre-game talk in the locker room and have long talks with the players, while towards the end of my career this was done at the team hotel. They would go into great detail away from the ground and only save a few words of encouragement in the stadium before we went out to play, allowing the players to focus on the game. Potentially an absent manager could still do this through a video call, even if it’s not the same.
Driving, for example, is always better when you have a passenger helping you get to the right destination because doing so only makes life more difficult. You can always go to them for instructions and a coach does it for the players when they need a little guidance and support. People can underestimate what a coach can do on game day. Without them, players risk getting lost.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism