Does Sunderland’s “head coach” have a point?

Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet recently quarrelled with the media over the specifications of his job title.

The former Brighton manager was quick to highlight that player recruitment was not all down to him in the light of the upcoming January transfer window: “I am not going to be a head coach when it suits and a manager when it doesn’t. That side is down to recruitment.

“So, if you ever get the chance to speak to anyone on the recruitment side and ask them about it, you are lucky. If you don’t, don’t ask me.”

Clearly Gus Poyet is making a point here. The fact that he picks the team every week and chooses what tactics to use means that he really is in charge when it comes to the team’s actions on the pitch. However, when further responsibilities are needed, the club interfere and step in with recruitment.

In Poyet’s case, the recruitment team will seek potential players to sign in January and will lead the negotiations with those particular targets. Poyet does not pursue his own targets. Instead the club find their own and Poyet is offered the ‘final decision’ on whether they sign for the club or not. Ultimately, the title of Head Coach offers more of a limited control over the club as a whole. On the other hand, the manager of a football club operates solely on his terms, the chairman is there to provide money and listen to the manager’s expertise in terms of leading a club forward.

Ideally, every club would stick to the projected description of a head coach and a manager. Usually, the manager will not coach the team, he will allow the first team coach to conduct training and he will watch the training session. When it comes to discussing tactics and deciding what aspects of the game to work on, the manager is clearly at the forefront of decisions in that particular manner. However, if you have a vision of Arsene Wenger slaloming through some cones to showcase a particular drill, that probably doesn’t happen. Instead, the head coach will have his own drills that he can tailor to what the manager wants out of his team. Overall, the difference between a head coach is that one leads and conducts the training, the other looks over it.

Things get slightly more complicated when issues such as the responsibility of recruitment come into play. For example, Andre Villas-Boas got a lot of stick for wasting £100million on players to replace Gareth Bale at Tottenham Hostpur. However, this was not all down to him. Franco Baldini, the director of football at Tottenham, identified and negotiated with targets that he found himself. Villas-Boas did not have a huge say in what players were arriving at White Hart Line. He had the title of head coach instead of manager but, due to the confusion between the two terms, a lot of criticism was aimed at him in regards to Tottenham’s transfer dealings and he had very little influence over what players Tottenham could identify and approach.

Managers often become frustrated when their responsibilities are tampered with. For example, Newcastle tried to introduce a director of football to work alongside Alan Pardew. Suddenly, Pardew’s responsibilities were being overshadowed by none other than Joe Kinnear. Pardew was clearly bemused as to why he suddenly couldn’t conduct his own transfer dealings. Instead, he had to ‘discuss’ targets with Kinnear, a man who, at the time, could barely remember the names of the current players in the Newcastle squad. When the title of the manager is abused in this way, it creates tension between the manager and the board as it shows a lack of faith in his abilities.

A similar instance occurred this summer at West Ham. The media presented Sam Allardyce as a dead man walking and that in order to keep his job; he had to change his managerial style by adopting more of an attacking style of play. Allardyce has been quick to deny these reports by saying that it was always his intention to play in an attractive manner; he just never had the players to do it.

Again, Allardyce is clearly cementing his position as the manager of West Ham United. He is in control of the club’s actions and the chairmen are there to merely assist him. Allardyce has been quick to receive praise for the transfer deals he made in the summer. One of the players who was brought in was Mauro Zarate, a player the chairmen signed, not Allardyce. Allardyce has rarely played Zarate this season and instead opts for the attacking players that he targeted and signed himself. This could be Allardyce’s way of staking a claim, showing that he is in charge and even if the club choose to interfere with signings, he will not play them.

Overall, the difference between a head coach and a manager is not overly clear. Some clubs will be quick to stress the difference, whereas others will balance responsibilities throughout a large amount of staff. However, the real issue is when a manager thinks he has overall control over a club’s actions before the hierarchy step in to undermine his role.

The key is having a stable board and owners who stick by what they require from a manager or head coach, rather deciding to move the goalposts after an appointment has been made.

 


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