“In the old days there was a trainer and nobody paid him much heed. He died without a word when the game stopped being a game and professional soccer required a technocracy to keep people in line. Then the manager was born. His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom and maximize the productivity of players, who were now obliged to become disciplined athletes.
The trainer used to say: “Let’s play.”
The manager says: “Let’s go to work.” ”
– Eduardo Galeano
Football originated as a folk game, played throughout the world in any number of social situations. Little boys played at school, workers played after their shifts ended, and entire towns played in the streets. In such a format, there was no need for a coach to manage the game. All that was needed was to gather a group of people and a ball – oftentimes a makeshift one, at that – and start playing.
Towards the end of the 19th century, football became regularized and saw the creation of both amateur and professional leagues. These games were more competitive, drew large amounts of spectators and employed standardized rules. Now, instead of individual players showing off their own talent, “the new game saw a marked change of tactics. Team play, careful defensive play and a determination to win became football’s characteristics.” This style of play would seemingly necessitated coaches to coordinate players to work together as a team. But even in this early stage of football’s development, coaches weren’t given much importance.
The start of the 20th century witnessed the birth of the football manager that most modern fans are familiar with. Previously, managers were “administrators rather than trainers and were often described as Secretary Managers.” Now, managers, like Herbert Chapman of Arsenal, actually worked out strategy for their teams. But even Chapman was limited in his effectiveness, often restrained by the club Directors. The early years of managers were a testament to this trend, as owners who had a financial stake in the club felt that enabled them to also have a say in the football management. Nevertheless, managers persisted and “the ‘hands-on’ manager, intimately involved in the physical and tactical preparation of his players and teams, [spearheaded] some of the major improvements in the nature of English football.”
Herbert Chapman (middle) was one of the first true managers in England.
By the 1960s, it was clear that the overpowering influence of the owners over managers was a detriment to the growth of football. The old guard of owners, who had no football expertise, still involved themselves in personnel decisions and tactical instruction. The new guard of managers, however, worked to change this system. Younger “track-suit” managers modeled their styles after successful European managers on the continent.
The old English training system was laughable, usually involving a light daily ritual of skipping, walking, running and maybe a little ball practice, a regime that made English players unfit to compete with the best in Europe. Consequently, the new coaching style involved training with players directly on the field and developing closer bonds with the players than the directors. The first English manager, Walter Winterbottom, emphasized development of ball skills, training and tactical preparation as he attempted to change the culture surrounding trainers and managers.
Initially, training was met with resistance. Many players believed training would only serve to encumber their innate skill. The English also resisted the influx of foreign managers, preferring their own countrymen and the Scottish. Nevertheless, good managers like Bill Nicholson, Chapman and George Allison were able to inspire their teams and had the tactical expertise to develop a winning brand of football. These coaches were able to assess players’ strengths and weaknesses and create a formation that maximized the capabilities of their personnel.
Don Revie came of age in this era. The Leeds United manager was a master at maximizing the potential of his teams, developing schemes to utilize his players’ talent and training them to gain every possible advantage on the pitch. Here is a closer look at one of the most controversial managers in English history.
Revie was a brilliant tactician, and was a student of the game even as a player. At the Middlesbrough Swifts, he began to develop his fastidious approach to the game. Revie became obsessed with every detail of every match and extended that same level of interest to scouting opponents. As a manager, he would employ the same strict attention to scouting, and “emphasize the benefits of knowing [the] enemy and sound pre-match planning.” Revie was never athletically gifted, so he learned about the importance of positioning from Sep Smith when he transferred to Leicester City, which not only inspired his own play but also the style of his Leeds United teams.
Even at the tail end of his career, Revie still displayed the sharp instincts and knowledge that foreshadowed his managerial career. He was on Leeds United, which was not a very good squad, but “[Revie’s] mind was as quick as ever and he could still pull the strings sufficiently well to hide the worst aspects of a mediocre team.”
Revie became player-manager of Leeds United and inherited a team that was on the brink of relegation in the Second Division. Nevertheless, he immediately set the highest goals, shaping a new culture that was primarily based on youth. Revie believed that players ought to be loyal to their team and the best way to achieve this was by developing strong youth and junior leagues. He worked hard to secure the top young talent in the country. In order to sign Peter Lorimer, Revie raced to catch the last ferry to Scotland to meet Lorimer at 2 a.m. before Leeds’ rivals arrived at 8 a.m.
There was a definite spirit of brotherhood about the team, as they took part in group activities together like carpet bowls and bingo. Later managers acknowledged that Revie’s lasting legacy was his “paternalistic streak”. Revie also started a new fitness program in order to have the most fit and technically proficient side possible. Furthermore, Revie gave the team a whole new look, instituting white uniforms to match Real Madrid’s in the hope that Leeds United could eventually resemble the Spanish giant not just in appearance, but in success. His innovations were met with skepticism at the time, but Revie was determined to leave a lasting managerial imprint.
Revie made his real mark on the field, implementing a new style of play for his squad. Despite having made his living playing beautiful football, Revie valued results for Leeds United. Revie conceded that he couldn’t afford to be pretty and instead had to be realistic. As such, the team was built on “rock solid defense, a stifling midfield stranglehold and doing just enough to gain a precious lead.” Other teams hated playing against Leeds because “they feigned injuries, harassed officials and pinched, kicked and hit opponents.” Revie’s side earned the nickname “Dirty Leeds”, but it was fantastically successful.
But Revie’s win-at-all-costs approach wasn’t always well-received. He made his players play through a number of serious injuries, often just to keep the morale of the rest of the team high. Revie also took a great deal of care in preserving his players’ public profiles. In 1971, he covered up Gary Sprake’s drunk-driving accident by reporting the car stolen, demonstrating the astonishing depth of his loyalty to the club. There were also repeated allegations of match-fixing against Revie, especially by rival manager Bob Stokoe. None of the charges were ever proven, but they compromised Revie’s integrity. Revie was the consummate “professional” manager, but that didn’t have a positive connotation. In fact, many credited Revie with destroying English football’s innocence.
Don Revie and Billy Bremner, the captain of Leeds United in the 1960s and 1970s.
Once Revie’s core of players that he had brought up reached retirement, the manager moved on to the English national team. Revie was never destined to have the same success with England as with Leeds without his pick of players and full control over the team. He eventually jumped ship to coach for the United Arab Emirates, following the money and selling out to his home country, the final act of the consummate mercenary.
Revie’s career presents a series of paradoxes. He blatantly acted out of self-interest in his career, but his management philosophy was about “collective solidarity.” He thought of himself as the “typical Englishman”, but had no qualms with leaving his country for a higher salary in Dubai. As such, the English–outside of Revie’s fervent supporters in Leeds–have never adequately articulated his legacy. Regardless of whether fans love him or hate him, Revie was a true groundbreaker. He developed a more physical, aggressive style of play. He was responsible for numerous commercial innovations like track-suit tops with players’ names on the back and a shirt deal with Admiral for England’s uniforms. He was one of the first true professionals in the sport, always doing his job for monetary compensation in addition to love of the game.
Football has exploded in the years following Revie, becoming a colossal commercial enterprise, so that following the paycheck isn’t as traitorous as it was in the past. Managers have become celebrities and earn ludicrous salaries, even if not in the same vein as players. But they have to deal with new challenges, like interacting with the media and managing the egos of their players, and they are constantly on a tight leash from their bosses. Many managers struggle to function in the public eye, and are often caught in an unforgiving light. As such, the new manager has to deal with much more than just football. Here is a closer look at Arsène Wenger, one of the most successful managers in the modern era.
When Arsène Wenger was introduced as manager of Arsenal in 1996, the London Paper The Evening Standard ran a headline that read: “Arsène Who?” The attack was not completely uncalled for; Wenger was a relatively inexperienced manager who was about to become the head of one of England’s most historic football clubs. After thirteen years at the helm, Wenger has lead Arsenal to three Premier League titles and five time runner-ups, four FA cup titles, a Champions League final appearance, and went unbeaten in 2003-04, only the second team in English football history to do so. Wenger achieved this success thanks in most part to a few key ideals: his belief in youth development, his reluctance to spend large sums of money in the transfer market, and his belief in playing beautiful, flowing football.
Wenger was offered the manager position at Arsenal in 1994. He brought with him some very interesting ideas, including “progressive ideas on how a modern football club should be run and how its players should eat, train and rest.” He insisted that his players be disciplined and adhere to a strict diet, consisting of only “boiled vegetables, fish and rice. No fat, no sugar.”
Perhaps the most recently criticized Wenger philosophy is his belief in developing a young team. Arsenal has not won a trophy in four years and many critics blame his reluctance to sign older more experienced players as the cause for this drought. Yet Wenger refuses to back down from his policy, claiming that young talent will eventually reap great dividends. By putting them together at a young age in the academy or even on the first team, Wenger can indoctrinate the players with his style of play. Also, when the players are all brought up together and under the same coaching, they will play much better as a team, with a more profound understanding of each other’s strengths and style of play.
Ever since the departure of the key players that helped Arsenal go unbeaten in 2003-04, Wenger “has adopted a different methodology of faith in youth, developing raw talent into world-class stars like Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie rather than just simply looking to go out and buy the best.” He has not strayed far from his beliefs as many of the players on the team arrived on the team at the age of 16.
As a corollary to his reliance on youth, Wenger has often spoken out against spending large sums of money on the transfer market. If taking a player from the youth academy provides the greatest familiarity with the team’s style of play, then buying one on the transfer market provides the least familiarity. Wenger has been quite frugal with his money since joining Arsenal, often shying away from large transfer fees unless he truly believes the player can be had for a bargain, like Andrei Arshavin.
Football columnist Philippe Auclair helps clarify Wenger’s policy, claiming that Wenger “feels he has a moral obligation to show that he can succeed another way. He is consciously trying to make a winning team, rather than buy it.” Wenger has taken on quite a heavy burden with this battle against spending, a burden that has become exceedingly more heavy with Arsenal’s recent lack of hardware.
Perhaps Wenger’s most moral stance is his insistence on playing beautiful, flowing football. He admits that he loved watching the Ajax team of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the team that pioneered Total Football and was constructed from an academy system. Through the youth academy, Wenger can develop the exact style of play he hopes to see from his players.
Yet beautiful football does not ensure beautiful results, and when the style of play is placed above the final result, beautiful football is questioned. Current Arsenal winger Theo Walcott admitted that “sometimes it’s not just about pretty football. We need to grind out the results sometimes and get the win, get the three points.” While Walcott is right to suggest that focusing more on results is a worthy endeavor, Wenger’s defense of beautiful football is still quite worthwhile.
Many writers criticize his reluctance to spend or his stubborn belief in his youth policy, but Arsène Wenger has stuck to his guns, and players have taken notice. Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou has expressed great interest in playing for Wenger, saying that “every single player in the world dreams of playing for Arsène Wenger.” Even after a long trophy-less stretch, Kalou admits that “they are achieving huge things at Arsenal and watching them play is just beautiful.”
While Kalou is not representative of every footballer in the world, his remarks are quite stirring. Even though he is labeled almost daily in the press as stubborn and article upon article has been published suggesting he is wrong, Wenger has gained quite a following from players and fans as a manager to be admired. Whether or not you agree with his philosophy or results (especially recently), no one can deny the exceptional influence Wenger has had on the game of football.
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