Tactical genius or leader?

What is the role of the manager?

Bear with me while I get to the point. Please.

Rafa Benitez was hailed tactical genius. He was considered a leader that can always motivate his Liverpool players for that big match. After last season finishing second in the Premier League everyone thought Liverpool will take their 19th title this (2009-2010) season.

As this season draws to a close it is obvious that Liverpool would not only not win the title, it will almost definitely be outside the champions-league spot for next season. Whilst having all it takes to succeed – Liverpool failed. Sounds like a couple of software projects I know.

During this very troubled season I tried to find differences in the approach, as it is visible through the media, between the best managers of the premier league. And I think I have cracked it. It is all about leadership.

No one can doubt that Rafa knows football. Nobody can say he can’t get results. But this season it all broke down and he was left without answer. He has won plenty and after all did give Manchester United a good run for their money more than once. To be pipped to the title by the 2009 version of Manchester United, featuring Christiano-the-hair-Ronaldo is nothing short of great.

So where did Rafa go wrong? Well, his style of leadership is my belief. When all is good – he is a genius.

Footballers, like everyone else, need to be confident about what they do and about themselves. Wayne Rooney wears the same black gloves this season for good luck. Yes, even when it is warm. Wayne Rooney, one of the best strikers in the world is superstitious. Why? Every ounce of confidence counts. Even if it is irrational.

Enter stage left – Ryan Babel. A Dutch striker.  His period in Liverpool seems like a waste of time. Times of utter brilliance, and times of complete despair and shocking performances.

The point (almost)

Well, the point is leadership and motivation. A manager is not a bureaucrat. A manager has to also be a coach. Someone who motivates his people and gives them the ground they need to flourish. Setting up brilliant tactics and plans doesn’t do you any good if you are unable to get your team to execute. If you can’t create a system which feeds back to you to help you understand what is good and what is bad.

Examples? I’ll go back to Ryan Babel. One game he scored a brilliant goal, only to follow it two minutes later with a free kick that would make my mother say “I could do better”. Yes, my mother. What did Rafa say to the press? “Well, this is Ryan. He needs to be more consistent”. While this is correct analysis – it is absolutely the wrong thing to say to the press. He needs to shelter Ryan Babel from the press and fans and help him believe in himself, to achieve this consistence.

If a player of Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) or Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) was in Babel’s place, these two managers would have given complete backing to their player. At least publicly. Wenger especially. He’d blame the pitch, the press, the other team, the length of the grass. Everything except his brilliant player. He’ll big the player even more. Fergie would blame the ref. The time keeping. And make the player the best in the world.

Fergie doesn’t mind getting fined by the FA as it shows his players that he is fighting with them. That he will do the fighting off the pitch, but it is with/for them.

Wenger is especially interesting in this respect. Two examples really stand out. Eboue was booed by his own team’s fans. The fans have done all the fans could to make him leave. What did Wenger do? He stood behind him. Helped his confidence. Publicly, not just in the dressing-room. He said to the press how great Eboue is. A season later and Eboue is one of the best players and all the fans love him. He turned around. He worked hard instead of sulking. Another example is Bendtner. The fans just now turning after he is slowly growing to be the striker Wenger always says he already is.

Both Fergie and Wenger appear to be the broad-shoulders their players need to hang on to. Looking at the team when a goal is scored or an opportunity is missed it is easy to see for which manager the team would gladly go to battle. Looking at Liverpool – it is easy to see that the team would let Rafa die alone in the tranches.

The point (really)

Well it is simple. Different managerial styles result in different results. ’tis a no-brainer. In my opinion for a manager to succeed he needs to take all that knowledge he has, and the belief he has, and hand it down to his team. To think only about his team, as his success is derived from their success. There is no success of a manager if the team has failed. Be it in football or in software. He needs to be a facilitator rather than a plan maker. The success of the team IS the managers success.

Is this all that was wrong for Liverpool this season? Well, obviously no. It is never this simple. But I believe that a different style of manager would have been able to regroup and motivate his team, to cross those obstacles.


About snailonabike
I cycle, I run, I live, I have a family, I write code for a living, I have an opinion

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