Book review: The Manager, by Mike Carson

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 5:43pm

The Manager: Inside the Minds of Football's Leaders
by Mike Carson
3.5 star

Richard Williams

Now that soccer's top players live in gated compounds, take their holidays in Dubai and communicate with the outside world only as an obligation to broadcasters and sponsors, the team manager has become the media's principal point of access to people in the game.

In The Manager, former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson claims that this is because journalists, knowing that bad results can lead to a managerial sacking, are constantly on the lookout for a scalp.

The real reason is that players, wary of the damage an isolated quote can do, choose to talk only in bland platitudes, so the manager is licensed to speak freely, not just to explain decisions of selection and tactics, but to play a leading role in the soap-opera spats and feuds that keep the back pages humming.

The Manager, a kind of real-life instruction manual compiled from interviews with some of the profession's leading figures by Mike Carson, a management consultant, is neither disinterested nor objective as it was produced at the behest of the League Managers Association and Barclays Bank, the English Premier League's sponsors. But it does contain an amount of interesting material, despite a few irritating errors.

There is, very clearly, no single formula for success in the job. The two most successful managers in English football history, Ferguson and Liverpool's Bob Paisley, could hardly have been more different in style and temperament.

In the recent past, as Carson points out, Sam Allardyce succeeded at Bolton Wanderers by discovering the value of a scientific approach to recruitment and preparation, while Newcastle United turned the corner after Kevin Keegan lifted his squad's spirits after ordering an overnight redecoration of the dingy buildings at their training ground.

Whereas some managers prefer to keep a distance from their players, Jose Mourinho of Chelsea goes out of his way to make friends with them.

Football is changing as the world around it changes, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sums up one big aspect of the change - the impact of social media: "We have gone from a vertical society to a horizontal society where everybody has an opinion about every decision you make, everybody has an opinion on the internet straight away … one of the most important qualities of a good leader now is massive resistance to stress."

Guardian News & Media