Affinity v Experience – there’s only one winner

A usually modest and subdued Pep Guardiola once responded to a question regarding his apparent ‘perfection’ by conceding, “maybe it’s true, maybe I do piss perfume.” The Barcelona manager often deflects the attention heaped on him by continually lauding the contribution of his players, but he has made an unquestionable difference to the Catalan club in his three seasons at the helm.

Jose Mourinho was amongst a number of prominent names linked with the managerial post when Frank Rijkaard announced he was leaving in 2008, but Barcelona president Joan Laporta decided to promote Guardiola who was coaching the B team at the time. Although he was beginning to earn acclaim for his work in developing Barcelona’s youngsters, Guardiola’s appointment symbolised the return of a club legend and the inauguration of a thoroughly Catalan philosophy, rather than the dawn of a new era under one of the world’s more established managers.

In recent times, several teams have elected respected former players to either steer their club out of trouble or because they provide the characteristics which embody a team’s values, even if they lack managerial experience. This policy has mainly produced positive results, but Guardiola is probably the only manager of his type to cement a long-term vision and to have been afforded the time to implement it.

Diego Maradona was presented with the task of qualifying his native Argentina for the 2010 World Cup, despite a managerial history which consisted of short spells in charge of Mandiyu de Corrientes and Racing Club thirteen years previously. It was quite clear that the former Napoli forward didn’t represent the best option in terms of experience and knowledge, and a host of high-profile coaches would certainly have accepted such an esteemed post, but Maradona’s tenure can hardly be described as unsuccessful.

Argentina struggled through the two-year qualification process and relied on a last-minute Martin Palermo strike against Peru in the penultimate qualifying tie to ensure they made it to South Africa, finishing in the fourth and last automatic spot. During the Finals tournament, the South Americans arguably displayed the most attacking flair of any nation during the group stages, and even though they were eventually beaten soundly by Germany at the quarter-final stage, nobody was really expecting them to win the competition.

If Argentina had won the World Cup, it certainly wouldn’t have been because of Maradona, just as not winning it wasn’t directly his fault. The main reason behind his appointment was to protect the players from Argentina’s notoriously harsh press, who had continually attempted to impede the progress of the country’s two former managers, Alfio Basile and Jose Pekerman. Both managers faced a press who questioned and criticised their efforts if the team didn’t win 5-0 every game, but Maradona’s status in the country prevented the media from scrutinising the man who had captained Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. This ‘protection’ allowed the players to perform with significantly less pressure and considerably more freedom, which is something Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, must have considered when they selected Kenny Dalglish to guide the Anfield club through the remainder of this season.

Liverpool have had to deal with several rancorous issues over the last twelve months, and Dalglish’s appointment following the sacking of Roy Hodgson made more sense than any of the names linked with the post in January because of his reputation at Anfield. The club’s form has steadily improved recently and the team are evidently playing with reduced pressure, much like the Argentina side of last year. What’s more, Liverpool fans now appear greatly optimistic, and with reason following Monday night’s 3-0 win against Manchester City and Jamie Carragher’s announcement that the ‘feel-good’ factor has returned to the club, a stark contrast from the atmosphere of a couple of months ago.

All managerial appointments are considered with a large element of risk, but the extortionate pay-offs managers have been receiving recently following failures prove that experienced managers don’t guarantee success. Ex-players tend to provide their clubs with a positive attitude and their impact is principally psychological, both in terms of man-management and fan support. If a club is in the process of sacking a manager that denotes a significant degree of instability, which, as Guardiola, Maradona and Dalglish have proved, can be solved by appointing a symbolic manager rather than one with an impressive CV.

With this in mind, what chance does David Beckham have to succeed Fabio Capello as the next England manager? Common sense suggests he should be afforded considerable contemplation, but then the FA isn’t famed for its logic.

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