Does a football club need a manager?


I’ve never understood the word when used in a football context. A player can “jockey” another player, I know that much, but to what effect I could not say. I know a man who does though:

The Manager.

Chief amongst the manager’s roles is deploying words like “Jockey” and – according to Fabio Capello – 99 words which communicate with footballers.

Nevertheless, jockey aside, a full knowledge of this subset lexicon would not seem to be hard to grasp. Most of the manager’s role seems to follow from that, or so it seems, with a four four two here and a craft transfer swoop there the manager’s job seems a bit, well, simple.

We have a man called Major Buckley to thank for phrases like transfer swoop by the way. A ex army man he brought the language of the tactical battlefield to football. He also used to year plus fours -the brassneck of the man – as he managed Blackpool, Wolves and Leeds United

The managers job can be boiled down to such simple elements that it is a wonder that anyone bothers with them at all and – in Bradford City – there seems to be a club which has decided to do away with the idea of a manager altogether.

At least a manager as Major Buckley would understand the term. Nominally City have Peter Jackson now and had Peter Taylor before but they would fulfil the role of trainer more than manager. Buckley’s Trainer got the players ready for the next game – essentially Jackson’s remit – while the Major got on with, well, managing.

Which is to say planning. Planning how to be better – including a flank sweep for a new inside right but for the first time as a manager not exclusively in player captures – and working towards those aims. Planning a new tactic, planning a ground move, planning the name of the local underground station in Herbert Chapman’s case. Back then the manager, with so much to discover, went and discovered it.

Which perhaps explains why most clubs seem to have the same tendency as City to reduce the manager’s job. With football clubs having got to a level of maturity where most would agree on the best way to do things many of the roles of the manager of old are done, and maintaining them is taken inside the boardroom now. One of the problems that the modern manager faces is that most of the things that managers of tore used to do to gain a competitive advantage have been done. From giving a ball each to the players to signing The Three Amigos it is hard to find anything new to do.

So – in the absence of innovation – the manager explains to his players the word “Jockey” and trusts to them that his one hundred words will bring significant improvements. Perhaps club’s will do away with the manager altogether. Indeed there was an attempt in the mid to late nineties for clubs to dub the man in the big chair as Head Coach or something similar.

City are in the process of recruiting someone to sit in that big chair although the role and remit of the successful applicant will likely not be that broad. For now Peter Jackson takes the team to Stevenage for his sixth game.

Looking to turn around a home draw and defeat in two away matches Jackson’s claim for the City job was strengthened with the news that Alan Knill had become Scunthorpe United boss this week and it seems the more Jackson does the job, the more it seems to rest with him.

A first trip to Stevenage for league football presents Jackson with a chance to do a double – City were booed for beating Boro earlier in the season – and to continue his itching towards the entirely modest reward of building City away from relegation.

The call on goalkeepers which has seen Jackson favour Jon McLauglin over Lenny Pidgeley is bound to give a steer on new contracts for next year and, it seems, that call is being made by Jackson.

A word on McLauglin who had a game of highs and lows last week but retains a level of popularity with Bantam fans that seems to go back to the idea that he should gave been given a chance rather than Huddersfield Town loanee Simon Eastwood.

It seems a long time ago now that anything that arrived at Bradford City with a Huddersfield Town connection should be automatically rejected by some fans. How times change.

Midfield pair Jon Worthington – back from suspension – and Michael Flynn are reunited with Gareth Evans on the right hand side. Jackson struggles to find a wide man in the set up he inherited with Kevin Ellison injured and Omar Daley out on loan but Leon Osbourne’s performance in the reserves suggests his name.

Certainly Jackson needs to find someone more effective than Scott Dobie on the left flank. The club are interested in Christian Nanetti who rocked up from QPR via Jamie Lawrence’s football academy and Ashford Town as they look to return to playing wide men.

Planning, Major Buckley would say, is for the war and not just the battle. Alas most decisions on and for managers seem to be made on a battle by battle basis. One has to wonder – in that context – if a manager is needed at all. If his role is reduced to one of trainer while the boardroom retain responsibility for the strategy and planning of the club – and putting that plan into action – then is a manager really needed?

Managers arrives talking about transfer budgets and wage budgets and one gets the feeling that Major Buckley and his ilk would have been certain that they would decide how much of the club’s resources should be employed in different areas and gone about deploying it.

Jackson seems likely to favour the back four of David Syers, Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Luke O’Brien although would no doubt been keen to point out that injury has forced his hand in selection in the games where the Bantams have been beaten. Luke Oliver has a chance of being fit.

Up front Jackson has seen his team struggle to score although it would not be true to suggest that City had struggled to create chances. Chib Chilaka showed his abilities with a good haul of five in his last two games and Darren Stephenson showed a willingness last week but Jake Speight was missed when he left the game last weekend and is likely to be partnering James Hanson.

Hanson dominates defenders. He does that because he already knows how to “Jockey”. One wonders who taught him to do that, and if the manager who did had anything much to do after.

Peter Taylor mulls over City’s contract offer and the first act of football management

The first act of a football manager in the early days of the game was not to pick a team or make a transfer. It was to be sacked.

Not only was the first act of what we would recognise to be the emerging figure of “football manager” to be sacked it was to be sacked to carrying the can for the failures of a group of directors who acted as the Selection Committee and picked the team.

Before The Major and Herbert Chapman started to define the manager’s role as we know it now the job was split between Club Secretaries, Trainers and these men in the boardroom who made up the selection committees. Selection committees picked the teams and made the transfers leaving players to decide the rudimentary tactics – such as they were – and eventually as the Football League grew and supporters vented anger they vented that anger in the direction of the men who made the decisions.

And so a decision was made and that decision was – in most cases – that either the club secretary or (more often) the trainer should be held responsible, and so he was fired. So was born the football manager not out of a need for new ideas or new direction but rather in order to distract, to shift attention. The sleight of hand of the boardroom and perhaps if on binning that first trainer – the hapless soul who took his squad on jogs and ensured they were banned from having a ball until the weekend to make them “more hungry” for it – had not caused eyes to move away from the problems that those club failed to conquer then perhaps the culture of the game would have been different.

Alas it did not and in the hundred odd years since the manager has assumed more control of footballing matters at a club and emerged as the figure we recognise today but still he is haunted by that first sacking. Hunched on the touchline, shouting until he is horse, the manager knows that the heart of his job is not the teams he picks or the transfers he makes but rather it is the responsibility he carries.

So Peter Taylor sits at his desk – well – at Stuart McCall or Colin Todd or Paul Jewell’s desk probably and in front of him he has a contract to become the manager of Bradford City on a full-time basis which Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are offering.

Taylor is in contract talks with the two employers over a deal which is rumoured to take him to the summer of 2012. Another two year deal and one which would take the manager to his 59th year. Considering that Taylor is without a doubt the best candidate the club could attract then why that deal would not be longer one can only speculate on. No mistake should be made about Taylor’s suitability for the role. He is achieved success repeatedly using pattens which he is able to replicate. The attractiveness of his football – and it is not the most pretty – counts for him in the end as much as it has counted for his predecessors which is to say not one bit. By virtue of what directly proceeded him Taylor is on a remit not to be liked and try play football but to get promoted.

He might look over that desk he sits at and notice the odd indentation – a fist slammed down in anger – or a nick out of the wood which could be the result of a telephone slammed down. He might look over that desk and wonder.

Mark Lawn talked about opening contract negotiations with Taylor saying

Talks have started about player budgets, not about his wages. He’s coming back to us with what he thinks would be a realistic figure to help us get promotion.

Rumour has it that Taylor has a list of wants and needs before he takes control of the club for keeps. Some say he wants the pitch to be re-laid while others that he wants better training facilities. Some talk about how much Taylor would want to spend on players and others that the manager is concerned over the long term future of the club that is hobbled by the rent it has to pay on the ground and has a chairman who threatened it with being put into administration.

Certainly Taylor might note other comments Lawn makes about the nature of his teams – the old Selection Committee thinking; That directors know enough about football to talk to the “trainer” about it – and his contacts which he hears are “immense” and “willing to help.”

Perhaps Taylor has a longer list of friends who will play for him for free as Gavin Grant does but when it comes to signing a long term deal maybe the manager does not want to rely on his friend’s help. Contacts are valuable in all walks of life but they should not be used to make up for a failure to provide adequate resources to build a team to match the aims the boardroom lay out.

When Stuart McCall left the questions start and perhaps those are the questions which Taylor asks now as he considers putting ink on paper. What is Mark Lawn’s plan for improving the club, if he he has one?

What is the plan for giving more resources to Taylor? For stopping the haemorrhaging of money on renting Valley Parade? For improving the training facilities so they represent more than a school playing field? For building on the work done which has seen the number of young players coming out of the ranks and into the first team squad?

Taylor will be asking all these questions and perhaps he will be hearing the answers he likes or perhaps he will hear a call from the midst of time and the collective psyche of the football manager born from those first days of being called to book for the failures of others. The raison d’être of the role being to distract the supporters.

The role of football manager is on a timeline of attempts to gather a level of responsibility that matches accountability they hold.

I hope that Peter Taylor will sign the contract not only because he is by far the best candidate the club could attract to the role at the moment but also because should he do so one might assume that Taylor has received answers to the questions he asks and that he might be able to hold his employers to those promises.