Personality in Football

Personality in Football

"Football squads are pretty much the same everywhere. You get a mix of personality types from the brash to the super-shy.You get the showy ones, the cocky ones, the nervy ones, the bolshie ones, the funny ones. You get the lazy ones, the hard-working ones and you have to meld it all into a team."


This quote in the New European newspaper from Alan Pardew, currently managing ADO Den Haag in the Dutch Eredivisie, caught my eye.

Indeed, any squad of players will be a chocolate box of assorted characters thrown together, which makes the manager's people skills paramount.

Professional clubs now all have psychologists on board in the hope it can give their player an edge, although a Premier League star facing relegation once lamented to me that,

"You can have all the confidence in the world but it you haven't got the ability..."

Most Premier League managers last only a season and a half.

Every year there are myriad examples in every division of coaching failure - of a gaffer losing the dressing room and demoralising his men whose lack of effort and listlessness become more evident with every losing match.

In the worst-case scenarios the depressed players throw their boss under the bus by deliberately playing to lose.

One cannot help wondering if managers receive any coaching in emotional intelligence or leadership when they take their UEFA coaching badges?

The Football Association's web page for the UEFA Pro Licence (Level 5), the highest-level football coaching qualification, states,

"The focus is on developing winning team-leadership and management strategies" which seems general enough. I could only find one mention of the word 'psychology' in all the course descriptions for this and the other badges, under UEFA B (Level 3) which mentions developing practices which meet players' "technical, tactical, physical, psychological and social needs."

Again, this language is very general and does not state what if any psychological training there is to enable managers to keep their players on board with his ideas. It is not easy or obvious and some people are just blessed with better people skills than others, just like some of us are physically faster or stronger.

So how should you go about melding a smorgasbord of men or women into an all-for-one, one-for-all unit?

It seems we have relied on pot luck forever, waiting until a man proves himself as a manager.

The traditional English gaffer was an alpha male who ruled the dressing room by the sword, inspiring his troops with military metaphors to stir up their masculine instincts before joining battle.

If he had the gift of mesmerising people like Brian Clough had in abundance, the effects could be thrilling.

But that character was considered to be on the way out by the time Alex Ferguson, a dressing-room general if ever there was one, finally hung up his coat at Old Trafford in 2013.

Players are more powerful now than before so the power balance has shifted. Some are even brands in themselves. The hierarchy has been upset with the boss being below his players in terms of fame, value and wealth.

Who can confidently bellow at Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for instance? Fergie, true to his Glaswegian shop-steward origins, gave the hairdryer treatment to his troops irrespective of their fame but the biggest egos like David Beckham just ended up walking out.

Tactical intelligence has become more important too since Pep Guardiola's tiki-taka revolution took Barcelona to such wondrous heights at the end of the Noughties.

As long as the players all understood the system they were supposed to play, so has the importance of the coach as enforcer and motivator concurrently declined.

A shift towards player empowerment has thus occurred but the manager is still more than a mere head coach whose job is to drill tactical nous and game management into the team.

Jurgen Klopp has developed a winning system at Liverpool but is also an inspiring leader whose charisma helps his proteges perform better.

With experience it is easy to sort the managerial wheat from the chaff as football is a results-based business, but it is harder to define what makes the perfect entrenador.

They can be quiet achievers like Bob Paisley or Carlo Ancelotti, wizard tacticians like Marcelo Bielsa or Arrigo Sacchi or arrogant geniuses like Johann Cruyff.

Some managers are shouters and others are quiet geniuses. It may therefore come down to chance whether one will gel with his dressing room.

This is because people have such diverse personalities, as Pardew confirmed, so the combinations of personality interaction are immense as well.

Unusually for football managers, Brighton boss Graham Potter has a degree in social sciences and a Master's in leadership and emotional intelligence.

On that basis, the Seagulls should be riding high in the Premier League, not three points above the relegation zone. But other factors like money count for much more in explaining success.


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