Home comforts and playing the long game

It seems crazy to think that managers used to be afforded time to implement their plans and learn about the club they were at given how things are in todays modern game. Whether that’s due to owners and chairmen expecting instant success, the vast and quite frankly ludicrous sums of money involved in the game now, or a combination of both, some managers seem to receive their P45 the moment things turn a little sour.

Frank de Boer, despite his successes at Ajax, was sacked by Crystal Palace after just 4 games. Thierry Henry survived barely three months at a severely weakened and lacklustre Monaco before receiving his marching orders. Whatever his shortcomings, David Moyes was the scapegoat for the Fergie-less season at Man United; he was sacked after 10 months.

But if a new manager is given time to adapt to his surroundings, and implement his vision, the rewards can be huge. Even more so if the manager has a long-standing connection with the club in question. In fact, there is an argument to be had that a manager “knowing” the club makes a massive difference. That will be the topic of my article today: Does knowing a club make a more successful team?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Solskjaer has exploded onto the scene at Manchester United and has made himself a front runner for the permanent position as manager. Picture from foxsportsasia.com

“I’m proud of my career as a player, I feel like I’m a part of this club, I know this club and I understand this club. Of course, being in the gaffer’s seat is special.”

Obviously, Solskjaer’s explosive start to life as the interim manager of Manchester United triggered this topic, at least with me.

On the day he was revealed as the interim manager of Manchester United, Solskjaer spoke at length about his passion for the club and his understanding of all its intricacies. It’s easy to see why he knows the club so well seeing as he spent most of his playing career there, and certainly learnt from quite possibly the best manager in the game in Sir Alex Ferguson. The club’s philosophies and culture are deeply ingrained into him, so much so that upon taking charge of Molde FK for his first senior management role he was able to use what he had learned during his time as Manchester United Reserves manager to win two consecutive Norwegian League titles and the Norwegian FA cup in 3 years, winning a trophy per season.

Granted, his spell at Cardiff did not turn out very well, but Ole himself admits that he did not have the right mentality for this and was using his experience of coaching a club with a very successful set up and multiple titles to their name at a club which was fighting for Premier League survival.

Since taking charge at United, Solskjaer has not lost a league game, and has masterminded a huge upswing in form. He has unlocked the attacking potential of Paul Pogba, making him the heart of the team. It paid off handsomely. Solskjaer has restored the culture and identity of a United team that has lacked it since the day Alex Ferguson retired. As mentioned previously, there’s no doubt in my mind that David Moyes was made the scapegoat for the failings of the first year of Ferguson’s retirement. While Van Gaal and Mourinho enjoyed some success with cup wins and a first ever Europa League trophy for the club, neither were able to inspire the wealth of talent they had at their disposal to fight for the league title consistently.

So where is it that Solskjaer seems to be succeeding where others have failed? Quite simply, as he has said himself, it’s his connection to the club and his understanding of it that has given him such a remarkable start and made him a front runner for the permanent job. He is using all that he learned under Ferguson to restore the pride and fighting spirit to a team that had lost both those traits. Would Mourinho’s methods have garnered a 5-1 victory over Cardiff, or clawed back a draw against Burnley in the final minutes? It’s incredibly difficult to believe they would. As Brian Clough once said; “Good managers make good sides. There’s no such thing as a side making a manager.”

Solskjaer is using his knowledge of being a player for United to great effect by employing the same tactics and methods that were in place which led to a hugely successful period for the club. Obviously, Mourinho and Van Gaal have had huge success elsewhere, but their unwillingness to adapt their methods and embrace the culture of Manchester United is ultimately what cost them their jobs. United is possibly one of the top five jobs in club football, maybe even top three, and that is due to the prolonged period of success the club has had. Solskjaer still has a way to go if he is to become the permanent manager at the season’s end, but his blistering start surely puts him in the conversation, and if he can make waves in the Champions League, Ed Woodward may find it impossible to not give him a shot.

But of course, Ole learned all of this whilst under the tutelage of the man who has won more Premier League titles than anyone else has or is ever likely to win…

Sir Alex Ferguson

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Sir Alex with the 1999 treble, a fantastic achievement which as yet no team in England has replicated. Its no wonder the trophy room at Old Trafford is the size of an average living room! Picture from manutd.com

Ferguson took charge of United in November of 1986 after a successful stint with Aberdeen. On his arrival at the club Ferguson immediately noted that the culture at the club was all wrong, and that a lot of the players, such as Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson, were all way below the standard levels of fitness required to push them to greater heights. It took time, almost 4 years, and nearly cost him his job, but he finally managed to ingrain his vision onto the team, and culminated in an FA Cup win over Crystal Palace, which started United’s dominance of English Football.

Ferguson continued to cultivate the young talent in the youth team, as is well documented with the famous “Class of 92”, but also brought in creative attacking players such as Eric Cantona to add steel to the forward positions. One of his more astute signings was that of a little-known Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, who became almost as synonymous with the club as Ferguson himself. Over time, Ferguson was able to imprint his vision across the whole of the club, only signing players who fit with in his own unique style and who fit the criteria for the club in both a technical and mental capacity. Such was his intelligence that many of his former players have gone on to become fairly successful managers in their own right having played under him and embraced his methods.

That’s not to say he didn’t occasionally get it wrong; names like William Prunier, Massimo Taibi, and Bebe show that he was not infallible. During one particularly bad spell during the 2002/2003 season, a newspaper article stated: “Ferguson will recognise this difficult start to the season for what it is: The greatest challenge of his career.” Ferguson fired back: “I don’t get paid to panic. We have had plenty of stuttering starts. My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch!” Such was the bullishness of his reply that it showed just how deeply he cared about the history of the club he had brought to such prominence. There were also well documented incidents with players like Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, but on each occasion, he replaced them with players who would go on to become just as good, if not better than the players they were replacing.

Thirteen Premier League titles, Five FA Cup’s, four League Cup’s and two Champions League wins show what the benefit of being given the time to develop an understanding of the club and the opportunity to implement your own blueprint brings to a team. Ferguson will go down in history as arguably the best manager of all time, and a 27-year reign as manager will be hard to topple with such consistent success. Ferguson, however, is not the longest serving manager in football, as we will find later in this article, but before we get to that, we must first head to his most bitter rivals on Merseyside…

Ferguson managerial stats

Alex Ferguson’s win percentage is something to marvel. Its no wonder he was as successful as he was.

Liverpool 1959 – 1991, the legacy of Bill Shankly

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Bill Shankly with just some of the trophies he won during his career. Picture from whoateallthepies.tv

Anyone who follows football knows the name Bill Shankly. He is the man who many say is responsible for laying the foundations for Liverpool becoming such a dominant force in the seventies and eighties. Despite being born in Scotland, Shankly played most of his career for Preston North End, and started his managerial career at his first club, Carlisle United. From there he managed Grimsby, Workington and Huddersfield before he wound up at the club where his legacy was cemented, Liverpool.

When Shankly took charge at Liverpool, they were in disarray. Languishing in the Second Division, and with Anfield itself in something of a state, as it lacked even the basic amenities to water the pitch. In fact, Shankly insisted that the club spend significant money, three thousand pounds (almost seventy thousand pounds in today’s money) to fix this before he would take charge.

When Shankly did take charge of the team, he found that many of the players were not up to the standard needed for his long-term vision, despite there being some promising reserve team players. This didn’t bother him though; he instantly felt at home at Liverpool. In fact, he even stated that Liverpool fans were “his kind of people.” Shankly was able to quickly cultivate a strong working relationship with the coaching set up at the club; this consisted of Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, with Shankly realising how crucial Paisley’s influence at the club was. One former player was quoted as stating that Shankly was “the great motivating force”, but that Paisley was the tactician.

Shankly also converted one of the disused storage rooms at Anfield into the “Boot Room”, where they would discuss tactics and strategies while repairing the players boots, which would become integral to the success he delivered. He was also able to get the Melwood training complex up to a fantastic standard, by instituting a development programme to improve the site and modernise the facilities so that the players would get more out of training sessions, which almost always included ball work, as Shankly did not like long running exercises and felt that players should always train with a ball. Five a side games were a staple of his training regimen, and he insisted on these being as competitive as league games.

Shankly’s philosophy was simple. He favoured a “pass and move” approach, which formed the basis of Liverpool’s strategy. He planned everything down to the most minute detail, leaving nothing to chance. Over time he was able to bring in the players he felt fit his style, and on initially joining had put 24 players on the transfer list. They were just not up to the high standards he set.

Shankly won his first league title in the 1961/1962 season, as Liverpool won the Second Division by eight points from second placed Leyton Orient. Just two years later, Liverpool won the First Division Title, finishing four points above Man United. Shankly would win the league again in the 1965/1966 season, but had to wait until the 1972/1973 season for his third and final league title; this also happened to be the year he won the UEFA Cup. His final honour was the FA Cup in the 1973/1974 season as it was announced a short while later that Shankly would be retiring from professional football.

Though he retired, he kept turning up to training as the club was so deeply ingrained in his DNA that he wanted to still feel involved, but eventually stopped this as he felt there was some resentment building towards him. From Liverpool’s perspective, they had to move on, and the legendary former manager’s presence threated to undermine his successor, and key member of his own coaching staff, Bob Paisley.

Shankly managerial stats

Bill Shankly started a revolution at Liverpool, one that started a 30 year run of dominance.

Bob Paisley is quite possibly the epitome of the one club man. His entire professional career was spent at Liverpool, signing as a wing half in 1939 and remaining with them for his whole playing career, transitioning to the backroom team upon his retirement. He is also known for being the most successful English manager in history, and a member of an elite group of people who have won three European Cups. This almost didn’t happen though; initially Paisley was reluctant to take on the managers job. Nonetheless, he was able to not only continue the good work done by Bill Shankly, but expand on it with European success. In his nine seasons in charge, Liverpool won six League Championships, three League Cups, three European Cups and one UEFA Cup. At the time of his retirement he had won the Manager of the Year award an incredible six times.

Paisley managerial stats

Liverpool was Bob Paisley’s only managerial position in his career, he remained with Liverpool for his whole career, starting as a player and working his way up to manager.

Paisley was then succeeded by another member of Shankly’s backroom staff, Joe Fagan, who was appointed in July 1983. He was able to win the treble of the League Championship, League Cup and European Cup in the 1983/1984 season, but the following season ended in failure as Liverpool failed to win a major trophy for the first time in the eighties. Fagan then retired on 29th May 1985, to be replaced from within yet again, only this time by current player, Kenny Dalglish.

Fagan managerial stats

Fagan only held the managers position for just under two years, but was still able to bring success in that time.

Now as we all know, Kenny Dalglish won the 1994/1995 Premier League season with Blackburn, but before that, he was hugely successful with Liverpool both as a player and a manager, a role he combined for five years. Dalglish was an accomplished player at the time he took charge of Liverpool, having won several Scottish League Titles with Celtic before joining Liverpool in 1977. Dalglish had learnt under Paisley and Fagan the “Liverpool way” and was able to effectively carry on their body of work, winning further silverware in the 1985/1986 season by winning the double of the League Championship and the FA Cup. He went on to win two more League Titles and a further FA Cup before leaving for pastures new. Many years later though, after stints at Blackburn, Newcastle and Celtic, he returned to Liverpool as manager from January 2011 to May 2012, and was able to add a League Cup win to his managerial CV.

Dalglish managerial stats

Dalglish was able to maintain Liverpool standards as a manager whilst also remaining on the playing side as Player/Manager. He’s been a very successful manager right from the start.

Taking all this into account, Liverpool’s dominance of the seventies and eighties can be attributed to the work done by Bill Shankly to cultivate a philosophy and identity to the way Liverpool played and presented themselves, but also to the fact that each time a manager left, a replacement was hired from within, ensuring they already knew the very successful set up that was in place. It is evident from watching old games that Liverpool were somewhat ahead of their time, and would likely have gone on to dominate for many more years, had a certain manager not come along to knock them off their perch…

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Kenny Dalglish with just some of the trophies he won whilst Liverpool dominated the 1980’s. Image from pinterest.com

But from there, I’m now going to move south, and discuss a club, and a man, very close to my heart…

AFC Bournemouth: The Fall and Rise

Now bear with me, because I know from the outset this may seem like a bias choice, and I suppose on some level it is, but also Eddie Howe is the man on whom I base my entire argument. Here is a man who played all but two of his career games for AFC Bournemouth, was thrown in at the deep end when the club was practically dead, and despite a brief trip north to Burnley, has been instrumental in taking AFC Bournemouth into the Premier League. Quite remarkable!

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A young Eddie Howe playing for Bournemouth in 1995. Image from Dailymail.co.uk

Eddie Howe made his first team debut in December of 1995 after coming through the youth ranks, and became an integral part of the defensive unit with Ian Cox in the late nineties. And played a total of 276 league and cup games during a seven-year period, before then Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, stepped in to help a severely financially crippled Bournemouth by prising away our star man for £400,000 in 2001.

Unfortunately for Eddie, in his first game for Portsmouth, he sustained a bad knee injury that was so severe it kept him out of action for eighteen months. He played one further game for Portsmouth before a loan stint at Swindon where he didn’t make a single appearance.

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Eddie Howe in his first appearance for Portsmouth,, shortly before a ninth minute injury kept him out for 18 months. He would make just one more appearance for Portsmouth before eventually rejoining Bournemouth. Image from squawka.com

At the start of the 2004/2005 season, then Bournemouth manager Sean O’ Driscoll was able to bring Eddie back to the club on a three-month loan deal. In that time, the Eddie Howe that Bournemouth knew and loved returned to form and was a significant presence. So much so that us fans banded together to create “Eddieshare” to fund a transfer fee in an attempt to bring him back permanently.

Within days of Eddieshare beginning, £21,000 had been raised and Eddie Howe was brought back to the club where it all began for him on a permanent deal. After a further three seasons, a build up of injuries forced him to retire in 2007, and after initially leaving the club, he eventually returned as reserve team coach, a role he lost when later manager Kevin Bond was sacked, but was later brought back as a youth coach by new manager Jimmy Quinn in 2009.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. With Bournemouth suffering from a seventeen-point deduction, and sitting bottom of League Two in 2008, Jimmy Quinn was sacked on new years eve, and Eddie Howe was placed in interim charge, and even though his first two games were away defeats, he was appointed permanent manager on 19th January 2009.

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Image from hitc.com

Such was the position of the club at the time financially, that had they been relegated out of the football league, the club would have folded and ceased to exist. But with his extensive knowledge of the club and its inner working, and from his time working with the youth and reserve teams, Eddie was able to pool all of his knowledge and pull off the greatest escape in football history, as he dragged us out of the relegation zone, and secured our position in the football league with a 2-1 win against Grimsby in April 2009, Steve Fletcher scoring the most important goal of his career to do so.

Few would have predicted what happened next, as Eddie masterminded a surge up the table and secured a runners up spot in League Two in his first full season as a manager, gaining promotion to League One. The following season was going fantastically well, until Eddie was prised away by Burnley, and although Bournemouth secured a play off spot, Lee Bradbury was not on the same level as Eddie Howe and the team slumped to defeat against Huddersfield in the play-off semi-finals.

The 2011/2012 season showed what Eddie had brought to the table, as Bournemouth finished 11th, with Bradbury being sacked in March and replaced by Paul Groves, who himself was sacked in the early stages of the following season with Bournemouth languishing in the relegation zone. A call was made to Burnley, where Eddie Howe was reportedly struggling to settle, and with the help of new Bournemouth owner Maxim Demin’s riches, a deal was struck to bring Eddie back. It proved an inspired move as once back in the dugout Bournemouth stormed up the league and almost won the League One title had it not been for Doncaster’s last-minute winner in their game. Nevertheless, Eddie Howe had guided Bournemouth to the Championship, uncharted territory for this small south coast club.

But as usual, Eddie was unfazed by this and with some astute signings was able to finish a very credible 10th in the first season in the second tier. But if his guiding of the team to promotion from League Two following barely escaping relegation the year before was unexpected, absolutely no one saw the next season coming; AFC Bournemouth won the Championship title and with it, promotion to the Premier League, where they have remained ever since. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in many ways is taking the same career path that Eddie Howe took, taking charge of a team in trouble and turning around their fortunes using his extensive knowledge of the cub where he spent most of his career as a player.

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The legend that is Eddie Howe with the Championship tropgy after winning the Championship in 2015. Image from sportsmole.co.uk

In the years preceding him taking the managers job, Bournemouth had managers such as Tony Pulis, Mel Machin and Sean O’ Driscoll, all good managers who were unable to unlock the potential in the team, but for Eddie Howe, working his way up from youth team to first team and then eventually manager, Bournemouth have a man who is so deeply ingrained in the history of the club, that he will likely go down as their most successful manager ever.

Howe managerial stats

Eddie’s managerial stats are very good, as he ascended the leagues with Bournemouth in six years. A remarkable feat. Since promotion to the Premier League, Bournemouth have established themselves and have been building on it every year.

For my final example, we will be heading to France, and discussing a man who holds the record for the longest continuous reign as manager at one club, and a man who literally lead his team from rags to riches.

The Roux-te to success

As a lot of our DictateTheGame readers are Football Manager fans, I’m sure we’ve all dreamt of taking charge of a Semi-Professional team or a conference team and working our way up the divisions to the Premier League, some of us may have even realised such a dream (Stevenage Borough, Football Manager 2010) but for one man, that tale was not a dream, but a reality, albeit one that it took him the better part of four decades to accomplish.

Guy Roux was an average player and realised early in his career that if he was to make a career out of the game, it lay in coaching, not playing. So, when he was appointed manager of Auxerre, who were an amateur team at the time in the summer of 1961, he set about laying down the foundations of what would become a near half century association with the club.

Given that he was a very young, completely inexperienced coach, what got him the job was his vision to make the club self-sustaining by promoting youth talent and coaching existing players to get the best out of them, but also, he wanted very little in terms of an actual wage when he got started. His wage when he first joined was 7,200 francs per year, less than £1,000 in today’s money.

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Roux had virtually no coaching experience when he took the Auxerre job, but despite this he made a huge success of his time in charge there. Image from equaliserblog.wordpress.com

It was an approach that worked. Roux was able to use his frugality to help Auxerre blossom and prosper. Whilst his official role was first team manager, he would often find himself operating the switchboard or speaking to local farmers in order to get them to donate dung to help the pitch grow in addition to his tasks of training and picking the team. It’s fair to say that in 1961 when Roux took control, he harboured very little ambition of taking Auxerre to the dizzying heights that they eventually reached, which they started by winning promotion to the National Third Division in 1970, and four years later winning promotion to Ligue 2.

Roux had got to this point by great management, but that alone was not going to be enough to take them further, and so he spoke with the club president and soon a new training centre was built, and later rejected the chance to sign French international striker Olivier Rouyer in favour of building a state of the art youth facility with the money instead. When you look at some of the names that came through that academy, its clear that was the better choice. Eric Cantona, Basile Boli and Raphael Guerreiro were just some of the notable names that came through the much-improved youth system that Roux had put in place.

In 1980 though, Roux achieved what had once been seemingly impossible. Auxerre won the Ligue 2 title, and with it, promotion to Ligue 1. Many people expected them to come straight back down, but in fact the team began to flourish, finishing 10th in their first season, before establishing themselves, and aside from one season, the following thirteen seasons saw them finishing in the top half of the league. Coming into the 1990’s the team were red hot and were consistently finishing in the upper echelons of Ligue 1, and with it qualifying for European football. In 1994, Roux won his first major silverware, the Coupe de France, a feat he repeated three times more in 1996, 2003 and 2005.

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Roux and Djibril Cisse holding the 2003 Coupe de France aloft, Roux’s third cup triumph. Image from Kicktv.com

The big one came in the 1995/1996 season though, when Auxerre won the Ligue 1 title, which they did comfortably by a four-point margin, in a season where they secured the domestic double by winning the Coupe de France again. This took Auxerre into the Champions League for the first time ever where they reached the Quarter Finals. Roux had done it. He had taken a lowly amateur side from a commune town to international sporting acclaim, and he had done so by building it all from the ground up. In terms of European success, whilst Auxerre did win two Intertoto Cups, this is not considered a major European trophy, as there could be as many eleven teams who were considered to be “winners” in this tournament, and it would earn them passage to the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Cup.

Roux remained in charge until 2000 when he “moved upstairs” for a director role, but the lure of managing the club proved too much for him and he returned a year later to lead the team for another four years, winning two more Coupe de France trophies. In fact, his final game in charge was the 2005 Coupe de France final where Auxerre beat Sedan for his fourth and final Coupe de France trophy.

Roux managerial stats

Given the huge amount of time Roux was in charge of Auxerre, a lot of his stats are untraceable without trawling through 30 years of results, but what we have here is his top flight stats, which make for impressive reading (if you leave out his brief stint in charge of Lens, a position he took but quit after just four games and retired.)

Roux had overseen Auxerre for an incredible forty-four years and had taken them from nothing to Ligue 1 champions. His legacy was not just forged at the club, his entire legacy IS the club itself. He is possibly the only man in professional football who can claim such a feat. He can also claim to have been instrumental in reviving careers for many well-known names in world football, as players like Philippe Mexes, Djibril Cisse, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Abou Diaby all passed through Auxerre in their respective careers.

So, there we have it, whilst in the modern game managers can be fired on the turn of a screw, history shows us that sticking with a man and allowing him the time to implement his vision will potentially bring huge rewards. Every person mentioned in this article has changed their clubs’ fortunes purely by knowing the club right down to the smallest detail. There are countless other managers who deserved to be mentioned, Brian Clough and Arsene Wenger to name just two, but Cloughie is a story all by himself, and some Arsenal fans believe Wenger sullied his fine reputation by staying too long and “settling for fourth”

In all likelihood, the cut throat nature of the current game is not going to change, managers will continue to take the fall the second results turn, it’s just the way the game is now. But hopefully, within all of this, there will be a few clubs who will keep faith with their manager, trust his judgment, and afford him the time to get his message across to the team which could in turn reward them in similar ways.

Thanks for reading. Do you think managers should be awarded more time? And does knowing a club make a more successful team?

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