We will only fight for the title at the end of the season if every player accepts my decisions, otherwise we will have problems.’
Those were the words that I was surprised to hear from Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola this week. We can only speculate as to the reasons behind them but clearly he has issues within his new camp.
Dealing with top level players is like dealing with separate industries. Each player has an agent, a lawyer, an accountant, a PR machine, business and family connections.
Each player has a powerful network around him that is affected by decisions made about the player.
Of course Guardiola is right; if his decisions aren’t accepted by the players working together with him, the repercussions as the business machines clash can be catastrophic and damaging to the concept of the team.
The same is true at every level. In the best environments, the decision of the manager is respected and the response of the players is positive. The team stays strong and the whole gets the benefit.
One suspects that in a World Cup year, top managers at top clubs might just find that their players become much harder to handle.
The desire to play a major role in Rio could well cause problems in highly competitive camps if game time doesn’t come in certain players’ directions. It is a factor that could benefit clubs that are under the radar a little.
Certainly I would be surprised if it didn’t. As Guardiola says, warring internally does not create winning.
EMERGENCY CALL – AND WE GO INTO ACTION
There are moments in a football manager’s life where you really have to earn your corn. I had one such moment at 9am yesterday.
We invested a good week on our training ground, preparing our 11 for the game away at Walsall. The team have been strong in winning their last two games and we used the opportunity to introduce certain new set plays and to evolve both our attacking and defensive systems. We were ready.
And then…the phone call! Midfielder Simon Heslop has been up all night at the team hotel and is not going to be fit to play. Ouch!!
Decisions need to be made and organisation needs to be reconsidered.
The first job is to put players on stand by to start, so the text machine starts firing out information to relevant players.
We always travel with spare players, so filling the bench will not be a problem.
Everybody is always told to prepare to play and our lads do that; their technical and tactical preparation is as thorough if they are in the 20 as if they are starting. Next I need to mobilise the management brains.
I let my coach and my assistant know about the problem and ask for their thoughts on how we should solve it. Their answers are pretty immediate.
We all see it exactly the same, even though the solution involves a positional switch. So by 9.30, plans are underway to re-organise our set plays; new jobs are in place where required; the team changes have been advised to the whole squad and the 18 is ready to go again.
It is important that the changes are not seen to diminish the team. But the nature of the players in our squad and their respect for each other’s strengths is a sure-fire guarantee that our mentality will be right.
We were fortunate that Simon’s symptoms came through early; sadly it turned out to be food poisoning which affected the entire team and diminished our performance at Walsall, compounded by a bizarre sending-off.
The fans don’t often see the behind-the-scenes moments that create the decisions that they try later to understand. But the reasons for things are often far simpler than they imagine.
If occasionally more complex too!
THE LOAN GAME ISN’T SO EASY ANY MORE!
Loaning players nowadays is a far more complex process than it used to be. We currently have two young players with us from QPR in Michael Doughty and Bruno Andrade.
Part of the loan agreement between our clubs requires us to contribute detailed information into the QPR management system, outlining the work, progress, targets and strategy for the development of the players in a physical, technical, tactical, mental and professional context.
I speak regularly with their coach at the parent club and file written reports after each game. In this way, QPR can govern their development while giving me the responsibility.
I know going back to days when I was loaned out as a young player that the thought processes going into things were nowhere near as advanced or thorough. The evolution of our player development processes will undoubtedly improve the performance levels of youngsters. It cannot fail to.