If new man can make players believe in themselves, that will give him a head start
Even at the highest level there’s still a place for channelling players’ emotionsin a positive way
Communication with your players is vital. Yes, they’re professionals, they know their jobs, as Giovanni Trapattoni might say. But professionals still have emotions, and the best managers turn players’ emotional energy to their advantage. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
Some time ago I had an off-the-record conversation with an Irish soccer international. I was curious to know what kind of things Giovanni Trapattoni said in the dressingroom. Did he talk to the players as a group or one-on-one, did he focus on motivation or tactical instruction, did he get angry after a bad result and criticise people?
“Well,” said the player, “He says nothing to us before the game. He says nothing to us during the game. And he says nothing to us after the game.”
That’s not quite as damning an assessment as it sounds.
Players can be exasperated by “busy managers” who try to cram their heads with detail. Sometimes these managers seem to be trying to play the game for them. Many appreciate a guy who gives them a bit of space.
Trapattoni certainly did that. His view was the players were professionals who shouldn’t need to be coddled with praise or encouragement.
As Neil Jenkins told Ronan O’Gara, the postman doesn’t get thanked for delivering letters. It’s a management style that possibly works best with players who have the same kind of personal work ethic and bulletproof self-confidence as . . . well, Trapattoni himself.
Alex Ferguson has a different view. He also worked with top professionals, but never lost sight of the need to manage their emotions.
As he told Harvard professor Anita Elberse: “Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could.
“For a player, for any human being, there is nothing better than hearing “Well done.” Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.”
Ferguson added that you also had to point out when a player had messed up.
Some managers would leave that criticism until Monday morning to avoid blurting out something terrible in the heat of the moment. Ferguson would say it in the dressingroom, so that by Monday morning it could be forgotten about.
Not every coach has to be like Ferguson, but he probably knows what he is talking about.
Communication with your players is vital. Yes, they’re professionals, they know their jobs, as Trap might say. But professionals still have emotions, and the best managers turn players’ emotional energy to their advantage.
If Martin O’Neill succeeds Trapattoni as Ireland manager, the players will be dealing with a different kind of coach.
In his new book, How Football Saved My Life, the retired defender Alan Stubbs describes what it was like being managed by O’Neill at Celtic.
Stubbs says O’Neill didn’t do much on the training ground, leaving most of the day-to-day coaching to his assistant Steve Walford.