Captains and Managers.

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I would like thank James Byrne for this idea and also remark on this piece’s timeliness due to Paul McGinley’s appointment as Ryder Cup Captain, Congratulations to him.

A trivial topic, therefore everything that proceeds means very little…

The question is how important a role do captains and managers play in their teams success. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to this question from any angle but i’ll give it a try and attempt to disrupt a few people’s day in the process…

What makes this a difficult question to answer is the fact that sports differ wildly. Football and Golf are intrinsically very different, as are Snooker and Rugby. There is one sport however that is synonymous to nothing else, because it isn’t even a sport: Darts. (That sentence gave me great pleasure in knowing how many people will disagree.) But anyway, back to my point and henceforth profound insight.

What do Manchester Utd, Barcelona, The All Blacks, and The UCLA Basketball Team of decades ago all have in common: Great managers/coaches. What does The European Ryder Cup Team of 2010 have in common with the U.S Ryder Cup Team of 1987: Great Captains. (There’s my profound insight). What is funny however is Jack Nicklaus, (the greatest Golfer of all time with 18 Majors) only has a 50% winning record as Ryder Cup Captain. Contrarily on one level* Colin Montgomerie, has a 100% winning record as Ryder Cup captain.

*that level referring to Montgomerie’s 0 to Nicklaus’s 18 majors.

What does this mean? Very little, which is exactly why a trivial question should always be met with an empathetic view towards another’s, and a willingness to soon forget what’s even been said. Exactly why these discussions generally happen in pubs at 1am. Without the ’empathy’ part.

One thing that does strike me however is generally the more ‘simpler’ the sport is, the more effect a great manager has. Football, Basketball, and Rugby are what I would consider fairly simple sports. To take part you need a substantial amount of physical prowess and it would appear not a very high IQ. Great managers however both do not require a trained physical prowess, and sometimes do not have, because they never even played the sport! (which is amazing if you think about it. Or is it?*). What they do have mind you are a range of different qualities, which almost always positively impacts their players psychological perspective and their performance.

*Jose Mourinho is a great example of how you do not have to play at the highest level to manage successfully. His view on how the game should be played and how players should be managed isn’t marred by any personal experiences. An outside view is sometimes extremely valuable.

Take Alex Ferguson. As a proud Brit, and a Chelsea fan let’s not forget, I would say he’s possibly the best coach ever. American’s would probably argue John Wooden. New Zealander’s would maybe argue Steve Hansen. And the Welsh simply have no grounds to argue. But Ferguson has created a phenomenal legacy at Manchester Utd, consistently nurturing youth and guiding them towards greatness, And achieving it. He clearly has a brilliant understanding of Football but also psychology. It’s the way he uses it which is interesting. Never does a player get bigger than the club. If they do their out. Rarely will he criticise a player of his, unless it’s Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs who are in their 50’s anyway and can probably handle it. The subtleties of his management are magnificent. In my opinion it has to be these underlying themes that create their success. (Ironically he has Arsene Wenger’s qualities to thank now RVP will most likely win them the league)

There is one big reason not to judge Ryder Cup Captains. Golf is such a hard game thus bad days are inevitable and infinitely tougher to turn round than a bad day on the Football pitch. It was probably likely that the 1987 U.S Ryder Cup team which Jack Nicklaus captained were having a bad-week, or more likely at that level, a not quite ‘there’ week. Moreover, because it comes around every two-years, and at the end of a long season, you are more prone to encountering problems.

So to conclude on the argument and wrap up this pointless piece of writing, I will say this: It is impossible to compare coaches/managers/captains across sports. It would also be a waste of time comparing them within the same sport. Everybody’s scenarios are vastly different. Are they important? Yes they are. What I would say is that the simpler the sport the greater role the manager plays. The Alex Ferguson’s, and John Wooden’s of this world are outstanding examples of this. Intrinsically harder sports however should induce the opposite effect; meaning we should credit and punish the manager far less than we actually do.

Very quickly in my own experience as a Golfer inside team environments, I found that you are hardly ever aware of who’s in charge when you’re playing well but almost always aware when you’re not. So the next time a player places blame on the manager or coach, what he really means is, I am too afraid to look at myself in the mirror, a problem so frustratingly apparent in Football these days. But to argue against this point would be quite contradictory to my previous paragraph so I won’t.

I would just like to finish by wishing Mr McGinley the best of luck in 2014 and if he fancies taking time out of his schedule to prepare, right about now would do me handy.

That Wise Old Owl.

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