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Friday, September 17, 2010

Setting The Tone

Nobes suggests that the way a manager conducts himself can be just as important as his tactics and training methods.

Pointing the finger of blame, but Darren Ferguson should look at himself

In a recent discussion with a pal of mine, we concluded that we were happy to see Peterborough United towards the top of this season's League One.

Rewind the clock two years, and we'd have never said anything of the sort? Why the sudden change in heart, we thought?

Was it because we were appreciative of the type of attractive, attacking football Posh were playing? No. They played the same way in winning promotion to the Championship in 2009.

Was it down to the fact their transfer policy had changed? No, they still appear to signing young players and, undoubtedly, paying decent wages.

It was, we decided, a feeling based purely on the man now picking the team at London Road.

Gary Johnson, we agreed, was a manager we liked. Whose achievements at Yeovil and Bristol City - and the style they were achieved in - merited respect.

Equally, resentment towards Peterborough two years ago had, we determined, stemmed from then-boss Darren Ferguson. A man whose manner is incredibly difficult to warm to.

What a difference a manager makes.

Of course, it's right to point out whether a neutral supporter likes a club has little effect on how successful the said team is. However, how a manager comes across can be very important.

Ferguson has again been in the news this week, with the beleaguered Preston manager being handed a three game touchline ban by the FA for his comments about referee Kevin Friend following North End's defeat to local rivals Burnley.

The 38-year-old launched a scathing attack on Friend's handling of the game saying decisions he made - including the sending off of Preston's Billy Jones - had 'won' the game for the Clarets.

Of course, his broadside was effective in deflecting any criticism away from himself. However, even after being reduced to ten men, leading 3-1 with just ten minutes remaining, North End should never have lost the game.

Their inability to deal with simple balls into the box - symptomatic of their defensive fragility under Ferguson - cost them the game. No surprise he was keen to point the finger of blame elsewhere then.

In doing so, though, Ferguson, much like his father, was doing himself no favours. His comments, while coming across to some as passionate, were actually embarrassing. Bad sportsmanship clearly runs in the family.

Not that he's the only one. Twice in the Premier League last weekend managers walked onto the pitch to berate the match day official.

When you consider how angry managers can get with players who pick up bookings for dissent though, if they act the same way, what right have they to complain?

Managers must keep their cool - not, like Slaven Bilic, join in goal celebrations

A manager must lead by example - and that includes conducting himself properly both on the touchline and when talking to the media.

What good does ranting and raving at the referee do? Is he more likely to give a team a decision based on it? If anything, he is more likely to be annoyed - and possibly send the manager to the stands.

And if so, the manager has let down his players. If they need his guidance on the touchline, he has failed to fulfill his responsibilities by being sat in the stands.

There has been some talk recently, too, focusing on managers celebrating when their team scores. Failing to do is, apparently, a lack of "passion."

Ignoring the temptation to focus on how "passion" is the most overused and irrelevant word used in the game, why does a manager have to celebrate a goal?

Is it not a commonly accepted view that teams are at their most vulnerable when they've just scored? Complacency can creep in, concentration can slip, and a team can soon find themselves leaking one in themselves.

My mind is cast back to, and I apologise for not using an example from the Football League, the European Championships of two years ago.

It's my firm belief that the colourful Croatian manager, Slaven Bilic, hailed for his work with the national team, actually contributed to his team missing out on a place in the semi finals of that tournament.

Why? When his country scored a goal deep into extra time against Turkey he proceeded to run down the touchline and celebrate wildly with the players. "Job done" he thought.

It wasn't. There was still injury time to play. The Turks raced down the other end and the still elated Croats conceded at the death. They went on lose in a penalty shoot out.

It was a game the players thought they'd won. The manager, inexperienced as he was, should have known better. Had he stayed in his technical area, tried to calm his players down, and get them back into a proper disciplined state, they probably wouldn't have conceded.

Emotion took over though. Passion took over. Too much passion.

A manager is a leader. While he must inspire and enthuse, he must also remain calm when decisions need to be made.

In the cauldron atmosphere of big games, he must keep his cool. After all, how can he expect his players to if he doesn't himself?

If players see a manager conducting himself with dignity, they are more likely to respect them. They're also less likely to conduct themselves poorly on the pitch.

Motor mouth managers who look to point the finger of blame elsewhere in post match interviews are simply covering their own back. Fearful of their own job, they look to hide behind the man with the whistle.

Managers, too, who make disparaging comments about their opposition before or after games are simply asking for trouble. How often do we see those words thrown back in their face as their hubris leads to their downfall?

Quite apart from doing the sport as a whole the power of good, managers refraining from making such comments would actually be doing themselves and their own club a favour.

That's because breeding a culture of acting responsibility not only wins friends, it wins points too. Mr Ferguson could do with both.

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