On the very first morning on my Uefa Pro Licence course, the guest speaker was a man called Michael Caulfield.
Caulfield specialises in sports psychology and, about 80 seconds into that opening session, the 19 of us in the room knew that we were readying ourselves for one of the toughest jobs in the world.
A job where the only guarantee was “the sack”.
We laughed, but it was a slightly nervous laugh as it dawned on us that this guy was 100 per cent correct.
“You should have told us that before we paid the eight grand,” quipped one attendee, but straight away this man had our attention. We were not there to learn how to do the job, but how to survive in it.
Football management is a unique role. From the minute you get the job, you are really only three or four bad results away from being unemployed.
Every win buys you more time. All the while, it feels like the whole world is watching and has an opinion on everything you do and say.
We were all hooked. That’s exactly why we wanted to be there.
The experience of crossing the white line as a player is in a different league to standing pitchside as the manager
Yet management is a lonely place. I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that first time you take on a professional team. You have lots of people around you, but ultimately, you’re on your own when it comes to making decisions.
You can prepare really well for the game, but something will happen that you just can’t legislate for and all of a sudden the whole game plan needs adjusting or tearing up.
It’s in those moments that you really have to drill down into your experiences and find the resources to make the decisions that can impact on the game. And in truth, you can never have enough experience. The more games you’re involved in the more you learn that.
It’s so different to playing. When you play, you just have to focus on yourself. When you manage, you focus on everyone else. And just because you were an exceptional player does not mean you will transition to management cleanly. The experience of crossing the white line as a player is in a different league to standing pitchside as the manager.
It's not about knowing how to play the game any more, it's about knowing how to coach it. And they really are two entirely different things
And for that reason, I often wonder if fast-tracking former players through their coaching badges actually does them any favours. Often former players can enter the coaching licence system a bit further down the road than the regular guy or girl who starts on the pathway.
On the basis that they have played at a certain level, they can be fast-tracked, which means they can go from one badge to the next one without completing the regulation 12 months in between.
For many of them it can be a real disadvantage because it’s not about knowing how to play the game any more, it’s about knowing how to coach it. And they really are two entirely different things.
There’s also a real difference between using things that you were coached in and creating your own sessions with a reason linked to your philosophy. It’s about knowing the “why” because players will need to know.
In the heat of battle, players will always default to the standard of their training. There are games that just take on a life of their own, like the Champions League semi-final first leg between Manchester City and Real Madrid on Tuesday.
On nights like that players produce an automatic performance based on what they constantly work on in training. The team behaves as well as the manager has prepared them. Your default reaction becomes clear for all to see.
Afterwards Pep Guardiola was in that space where he marvelled at what his players produced in a game that was chaotic, was played literally in each moment and made it impossible for him to over-critique their defensive lapses. The 4-3 scoreline could have been 8-3 or 8-0 or anything else in between. But that City performance came from training. It came from the work they do every day.
That’s why he marvelled because he could see the level they were at, the one they were pushed to by a superb Real Madrid side and also the one they defaulted to.
Anyone who watched that game was in awe of it.
Guardiola was always an outstanding coach but even he's still not complete. Nor is Carlo Ancelotti, despite the rejuvenation of Real Madrid. Next Wednesday we'll get another game that will be written as a new chapter in both managers' repertoire.
Some great players don’t hit expected performance levels because they default to the standard of their training. Then there are managers whose players default to the standard of their coaching.