I had a lot of time on my hands in Chennai yesterday so caught up with footie reading on iPad papers. So here’s what I crystallized – some of it may be obvious and may be Pundits here would be able to comment or corroborate.

Footballers are bionic men today. They are highly disciplined – alcohol consumption is way down, food habits in and out of training are strictly controlled, right down to how much of coffee they can consume. It was not the case 15-16 years ago when Wenger, Ferguson and Mourinho transformed their clubs – focusing on discipline and fitness to correct the pasta at lunch and beer after a game culture. Simon Kuper describes the modern footballer as “a bodybuilder crossed with a sprinter”.

They are now bigger than the club. This was partly true 15 years ago but very much the case today in a social-media dominated world, and this has changed the dynamics between club, manager and star. Today it is no longer possible for a Ferguson to throw a studded boot at a Beckham, cutting his eyebrow. However big the manager or the team.

As stars, players now want over-coaching. I read that the Borussia Dortmund coach even coaches players on how to keep their hands when going for the ball. Fifteen years ago this would have been resented by the players. Not any more.

So the consternation that Mourinho feels, when two of the costliest players – Pogba and Sanchez – in the United squad don’t seem to perform to their monetary promise is a reflection of the time he’s comes from. It is not necessarily bad management. Though here Jose has form – earlier he used to apparently target one player in the change room to help unite the others – a nasty thing but it used to work. He can’t work out that regardless of the pay packet, the player still needs handling.

Mourinho is not alone. Yesterday Roy Keane, writing in the Times, says that in his day players did not need to be told to go and perform, and he accuses Pogba and Sanchez of throwing Mourinho under a bus. Roy of course is of Beckham vintage, and hence his views are understandable.

The superior fitness of the players has changed the game as we all see – the pressing game is the only game today. Simon Kuper shows that footballers run a lot more on the pitch today than they did fifteen years ago.

But football is first and last a team game. It perhaps needs a new style of man management. After telling his players to play freely – and given that he would not have had time to change a word in the coaching manual – the same Man United players thrashed Cardiff 5-1 playing in a way they had not done until two weeks ago. We have already seen the results of Unai Emery in Arsenal. It will be interesting to see what Solksjaer does at Old Trafford.

2 thoughts on “Footie Thoughts

  1. Yes, agree to all your observations on the developments in the game. Players have become incredibly fitter, there is much more discipline, etc etc. That should have implied a trend that the coach(es) are more powerful than the players. But because there is so much levelling of players – most are indistinguishable from others – the truly outstanding talent becomes all powerful and can dictate not only to coahces, but also to owners. Witness LeBron James in the NBA.

    Again, turn to the NBA for a lesson on the difference an outstanding coach can make. Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs- that team has wildly outperformed over 20 years in a culture completely different from the star obsessed culture of the rest of the NBA.

    So just like players, truly outstanding coaches make a huge differences. The trouble, in both cases, is that they are rare.

    By the way, putting 5 past Cardiff City means absolutely nothing !


  2. Thanks Ramesh. Team games will always remain team games, and stars come and go. The calculus between player and coach will always change with the times but there is no question that outstanding man management and focus on technique are the big differentiators. Both Wenger and Mourinho had failed to evolve with the times and paid the price. I was not aware of the San Antonio Spurs – I do not follow NBA. Thanks for putting me on to this.


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