Listen to this article
The Manager: Inside the Minds of Football’s Leaders, by Mike Carson, Bloomsbury, RRP£16.99, 320 pages
Football managers – the men we see venting their spleen at the ref, firing off one-liners in press conferences, looking pensive on the touchline – have never enjoyed a higher profile than they do today. Everything they say makes the papers.
Unfortunately, what they say is often less than revealing. So a book that aims to dig deeper, including “behind-the-scenes” interviews with more than 30 managers, must be welcomed. As Mike Carson writes in The Manager, “we actually have very little appreciation of the full scope of their work”.
Carson, a management consultant, was supported in this project by the League Managers Association and Barclays, the official sponsor of the English Premier League, giving him rare and impressive access. If you thought that making a living as a football manager required little more than ownership of an overcoat and the ability to shout, prepare to be disabused. For Carson, “leaders in all fields of endeavour” could do worse than look to Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Roy Hodgson.
Each chapter tackles a key leadership skill through apposite case studies. Chelsea’s José Mourinho, for example, reflects on “handling outrageous talent” – a central challenge for any manager in an age of growing player power. “One of the things you must remember as a leader is your people are more important than you,” says Mourinho. When travelling to matches by plane, he prefers to sit with his players in business class; if there isn’t room, however, he will go behind them in economy. This is remarkable coming from the self-proclaimed “special one”. Perhaps he is more modest than we give him credit for.
There are other interesting snippets. In 1998 David Moyes– now at the helm at Manchester United – travelled to France for the World Cup to visit some of the teams’ training camps. At the time he was player-manager of lowly Preston North End, and though he received some funding from the Professional Footballers’ Association it was not enough to prevent him from having to sleep rough in his hire car most nights. “That is the kind of thing I did to try and find some more knowledge,” says Moyes. “You can read books . . . and pick up things, but I had real passion. I wanted to get out on the road and I wanted to find new things.”
But such insight is sporadic. Discussing the worst defeat in Arsène Wenger’s managerial career, Arsenal’s 8-2 thrashing at Manchester United in August 2011, Carson asks the Frenchman about crisis management. “One of the most important qualities of a good leader now is massive resistance to stress . . . show that you are strong . . . don’t panic,” says Wenger.
Carson does well to avoid the kinds of clichés that blight so many other books on football. He is less successful in avoiding management-speak. Take chapter headings such as “Seeing the Bigger Picture”, “Creating Sustained Success” and “The Art of One-on-One”: this is the beautiful game via David Brent.
There are also some curious omissions. Owners everywhere are taking power from managers, demoting them to a two to three-year employment cycle and hiring directors of football to oversee their work. Yet Carson avoids the subject entirely. Students of power may find this book compelling; for students of the game, it will feel like an opportunity missed.