Sometimes, possibly too many times in my case, you get things wrong. I spent much of 2010 criticising Martin Johnson's management of the England Rugby team. Now, however, I probably ought to hold my hands up and admit I got it wrong. This is not in response to England's win over Wales last night in the Six Nations opener, but rather for the way he has changed the whole team over the past couple of years.
Two years ago England needed fresh personnel and revised tactics. Johnson has, contrary to my belief that he was not the right man to do so, delivered with both. This is not a post about Martin Johnson though. I believed that Johnson was not the right man for the job because he was awarded the position for his reputation as a player, not a coach. This ultimately relates to the bigger question which I am going to explore today - do great players make great managers?
To examine this question I thought I would do some research. Using the current crop of twenty Premiership managers, I wanted to see how many medals they had between them, with the help of trusty Wikipedia of course. So here is a list of the league's managers with how many major trophies they won as a player – this includes top division league titles, domestic cups (but not Community shields or the like etc.), European competitions (again not including Super Cups) and International tournaments:
Arsenal – Arsène Wenger - 1
Aston Villa – Gérard Houllier - 0
Birmingham – Alex McLeish - 11
Blackburn – Steve Kean - 0
Blackpool – Ian Holloway - 0
Bolton – Owen Coyle - 0
Chelsea – Carlo Ancelotti - 13
Everton – David Moyes - 1
Fulham – Mark Hughes - 11
Liverpool – Kenny Dalglish - 23
Manchester City – Roberto Mancini - 10
Manchester United – Alex Ferguson - 0
Newcastle – Alan Pardew - 0
Stoke – Tony Pulis - 0
Sunderland – Steve Bruce - 9
Tottenham – Harry Redknapp - 0
West Brom – Roberto Di Matteo - 5
West Ham – Avram Grant - 0
Wigan – Roberto Martinez - 0
Wolves – Mick McCarthy - 3
Total = 87 – that is an average of 4.35 pieces of silverware gathered as players by the current group of Premier League managers.
OK, so what can we learn from this tedious number crunching? On this list of twenty, ten (50%) never lifted a major footballing trophy. Remove recently appointed Dalglish from this list and the average drops to 3.2. The point here is that with a handful of exceptions, the top managers in England right now were not remarkable players in any way. Great players do not make great managers, more often than not great managers did not shine on the pitch. But why?
It is not that complicated. The two are very different areas of expertise and often being an outstanding player will restrict your ability to teach others how to play. To use an example from outside of football, a MENSA member with an IQ of 170 could not necessarily teach an uninterested eight-year old child about the wonders of fractions. A simpler person would, on the other hand, probably have far more success.
The example if often applied to managers like Roy Keane. Very gifted players who are unable to appreciate how players of a lower quality cannot match his own high standards. The transition is a far from straight forward one. Being able to motivate, man-manage, coach, buy well in the transfer window, have tactical nous and deal with the men upstairs is a long way removed from being a successful footballer. It requires a different set of skills and characteristics that are not connected with being a superbly skilled player.
Diego Maradona serves as a good example of this. His record prior to getting the national job at Argentina was woeful. Yet he was entrusted with the role because he was an icon. A living legend. Unfortunately, his managerial skills do not in any way relate to his dribbling skills. He may gain immediate respect from the players and have charisma but he also opted for playing Jonás Manuel Gutiérrez at right-back in the World Cup. Enough said.
Martin Johnson may have proved me and many other doubters wrong over the last year. He remains, however, an exception to the rule that great players do not make great managers. Football has its own exceptions too, of course, both in past and present. On the list above there are some extremely talented players who are now managing at top clubs.
The news of Gary Neville's retirement also contributed to me deciding to write on this topic. The former United right-back has already earned many of the FA coaching badges and looks certain to coach and probably manage in the future. He was, love him or hate, a great player. Yet it must be remembered he was very successful within a great club, playing under a great manager. How he would fare as a manger himself with players of a lower quality than he had known thus far in footballing career is completely unknown.
My point - great players can make great managers but they are not great managers because they were great players. In fact the reality would appear to be that they succeed in spite of the fact that they were great players, something that often makes the transition into management more difficult.
Thoughts, comment and opinions please...