The most important managerial trait in football?

Sunderland midfielder Stephane Sessegnon recently praised the effect that Martin O’Neill has had on the Sunderland team since his arrival following the departure of previous manager Steve Bruce.

“It’s been good so far. He’s only had a few matches but since getting victory in his first game against Blackburn, there’s been more confidence about us…he’s keen to develop a good spirit among the players and it’s all been positive.”

We all know that with the arrival of a new manager form is likely to pick up; partly because if a manager has been fired it suggests form couldn’t get much worse and partly because new managers bring new hope to a squad low on confidence. Undoubtedly this never lasts, lasting success requires more than just turning up for a manager. However it does highlight the importance of confidence and team spirit in the form of a team. After all, as Roy Hodgson showed at Liverpool, there is no point attempting to implement tactics, even if they are proven, if team spirit is so low you can’t motivate your players. Bearing this in mind I pose the question: are man management abilities more important than tactical knowledge for a manager? Clearly the best managers in the world such as Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson have the ability to create an atmosphere at the club in which the players can thrive in their tactics, however the same cannot be said across the industry.

I think a clear demonstration of this has been the situation at Tottenham with their last three managers: Martin Jol, Juande Ramos and Harry Redknapp. Under Jol they came the closest they have come in since the creation of the Premier League to coming ahead of Arsenal only to fall short at the final hurdle. Under Juande Ramos they were controlled by an astute manager and proven tactician yet their form deserted them. Under Redknapp they are a completely different side. Redknapp is an interesting manager, his tactics aren’t always clear, or even right, he often fails to make the best use of his squad and has a reputation for being interested in every single footballer in every transfer window. Yet despite this seemingly less methodical and thought out style of management Tottenham, under Redknapp, have gone from strength to strength.

They made their first ever appearance in the Champions League, beating AC Milan and Inter along the way, and this season look almost certain to break in to the top three. So what’s the difference? Belief. In a recent interview with the BBC’s Robert Peston Redknapp explained his approach.

“(Players will respond) by you telling them how good they are, rather than telling them what they can’t do…Before a game, I go up and have a quiet word with Luka Modric and say: ‘Hey Luka, they’ve got no-one who can live with you today…You can run this game for us…You can destroy this team, you’re a different class to anybody they’ve got. Players, I think respond to that. Whether it’s Gareth Bale, I say ‘this right back, he’ll be scared stiff of you today Gareth, you know, He can’t live with you, he’s going to have to foul you because he can’t stop you…Just run him to death.’ And I think players respond to that.”

‘Just run him to death’ hardly sounds like tactical advice but you have to credit Redknapp, to an extent, with turning Bale from what was seemingly a waste of money in to one of the best wingers in the world. There aren’t many teams that Bale wouldn’t get in to and it seems that largely that is down to the confidence inspired in him by his manager.

People might say that man management might be the key to improving a team but it won’t win trophies on its own. However this Tottenham team has improved year on year and I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see them win something this year. Clearly a team is nothing without some tactical element, but man management is the key to getting the best out of your players and your team. Mourinho’s sides would be nothing without the belief he instils in them. Adebayor during his time at Real Madrid said last year that Mourinho “Prepares his players sometimes like you are going to war. He gives you that spirit and motivation.”

For all the tacticians and thinkers in football it is clear that without the man management skills to bring the best out of your team is impossible. I say this because I am an Arsenal fan and in recent years, despite perceiving Arsene Wenger as both the better manager and tactician I have seen us fall victim to the desire of the Spurs team. Clearly Wenger has the ability to win trophies, he has proved that, but when he has fallen on harder times he has seemed unable to get the best out of his team. And this applies to all managers in the league. Dips in form are rarely anything other than loss of confidence which highlights the qualities of managers such as Redknapp or O’Neill in their ability to inspire belief in their teams and perhaps puts the importance of man management above that of implementing complex tactics.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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