HOME AND AWAY PETER SIMPSON
Home and Away
by

The modern Premier League is certainly no place for the meek

Meditation, mantras unlikely to help hard-nosed managers whose biggest concern is three points

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 May, 2015, 10:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2015, 9:14am

Spare a thought on this last weekend of the season for those delicate flowers called football managers. The poor things are so stressed after 10 months of rough and tumble in the dugout they need help, according to the League Managers Association. So this week they were issued with a 120-page survival guide.

Besides managing ego-stuffed dressing rooms and training pitches, appeasing bristling crowds and answering to madcap, unpredictable owners while trying to avoid relegation, win a cup and/or be crowned champions, they also have the ceaseless 24-hour media judgment of every uttering and gesture to deal with.

It would be unwise to mock the health complications induced by such a ruthless if handsomely paid occupation

Modern managers exist in the eye of "the perfect storm" of constant information and decision-making, testing the old "fight or flight, or survival mode", so says the guide, quoting leading psychologists on managerial weltschmerz.

Once the "stressors" came in short, sharp 90-minute bursts. But now managers suffer unhealthy sustained pressure 24/7, and "our bodies were not designed to handle it", explains Jeremy Snape, a former England cricketer, sports psychologist and current LMA non-executive director.

Of course, angst exists. Leicester's Nigel Pearson has demonstrated his short fuse and Hull's Steve Bruce is a picture of dread as he struggles for top-flight survival on Sunday, while Newcastle boss John Carver looks like he would shatter if a butterfly made a low flying pass.Indecisiveness, becoming suddenly verbally or physically aggressive, heart palpitations, disturbed sleep, excessive drinking, snappy with loved ones and depression - all should sound alarm bells.

Managers should ask themselves whether they have succumbed to "anxiety, irritability, anger" - even "suicidal thoughts". Caffeine and alcohol should be reduced and "deep breathing, yoga or pilates" practised.

Medication might also help to relieve "severe panic and sleep disturbance", the guide says - so, too, "turning off your phone and practicing meditation".And if managers are feeling edgy before a big game, they should take "three minutes out in a quiet place for some breathing space … and focus their attention on what is important".

Er, like three points, you might ask.

It would be unwise to mock the health complications induced by such a ruthless if handsomely paid occupation. But the guide does smack of a sport once more taking itself too seriously and turning marshmallow-soft in the process.

We live in an age where soldiers sue for being shot at and pilots are compensated for suffering vertigo. Are we nearing the day when football managers sue a club for stress?Besides, hasn't football management always been about "high stakes and thumping hearts" - and in the case of Sunderland boss and veteran hard man of management Dick Advocaat (aka "The Little General") tears, too?

Football has always employed managers who display erratic or eccentric traits, some psychotically so. We armchair shrinks diagnose such colourful cases as a gaffer "losing it".

Some of the game's celebrated coaches who lived on their wits - Brian Clough, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Kenny Dalglish, Harry Redknapp et al - were all known to flip.

But can you imagine any of these impulsive mavericks humming a meditative mantra while lying in a bath of essential oils and rose petals, sipping herbal tea and listening to a humpback whale mating call?

But can you imagine any of these impulsive mavericks humming a meditative mantra while lying in a bath of essential oils and rose petals, sipping herbal tea and listening to a humpback whale mating call?

For all its good intentions, the LMA survival guide portrays a generation of bosses so fragile it urges them to take a "20-minute nap" during the day, to eat "more broccoli, cauliflower and soybeans". Doing so will help them avoid the "triggers that increase [surely that all-important] match-day tension".

There is a tried and tested way to deal with stress, of course - start winning a game or two.

The time to de-stress is during the extended break because there is nothing like having plenty of money in the bank and being feted from dawn to dusk on a five-star exotic pre-season tour to soothe the nerves.

More urgent perhaps is a guide for us fans on how to survive the next 10 weeks - and how to find the arms and legs needed to replace those that will once more pay for the season tickets.