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What Makes a Good (Sports) Manager?

Football manager is an interesting position. In Europe the job wraps up what is two positions in the United States: Coach and GM. The big difference between a manager of a european football club and the coach of a US football team is final say over personnel decisions. In the US a coach has a say, sure, but it’s the GM who is really making the decision. Obviously that makes the European job much different, more strategic and, probably, harder.

Which makes it all the more impressive that Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has been at the helm of one of the world’s most successful sports franchises for 25 years. In the US, the average tenure of a coach in one of the four major sports is right around 3 seasons and althought I’m having trouble tracking down good numbers for European football at the moment I have no reason to believe it’s any longer (especially with the addition of relegation, which is one of the more brilliant things in sports).

Anyway, here’s how the article explains Ferguson’s success:

Shuffling his backroom pack has given Ferguson a fresh pair of eyes to see United through and also prevented players, in particular the longer-serving ones, from going stale on the training ground. New ideas, combined with players willing to adapt to them, are essential for the top clubs. Manchester United have not played in the same style for these 25 years; they have bought new players to adapt to new systems, sometimes to pull further away from their counterparts and sometimes to narrow a gap. This season’s style is different again and, in terms of their pressing game, has parallels with the way Barcelona try to win the ball back.

One of the things that always strikes me about NFL coaches (I know the NFL better than any of the other sports leagues) is that they always bring a system with them. In the case of the Chicago Bears and Lovie Smith it’s the cover-2 defense. There are those coaches that bring offensive systems as well, but seldom do you hear about a coach who is adapting their system to the talent on the roster. It sounds like this is exactly what Ferguson has done and, as a result, has helped him keep his gig (I’m sure lots of football fans would argue extraordinary amounts of money to spend on players had something to do with it as well … but Joe Torre still got fired).

November 6, 2011 // This post is about: , , , ,


  • Dan Dickinson says:

    I believe the average EPL manager tenure is around 2-3 years. Even teams that see great success have been known to dump managers – see Chelsea, for instance.

    I think it’s worth noting that while SAF has unparalleled success with his ability to adapt the team’s style to who he has on the roster, the second longest manager stint in the league – Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger – is facing the other case. Arsene brought in a system that was previously unseen, but has been unable to adapt since then. He was facing a lot of doubt and flak this season over a poor start (Arsenal is generally considered a “top four” team, currently sit 7th and are 12 points back from the top of the table) and a lack of silverware over the last six years. There was a great piece about this on Run of Play:


  • Dan Thornton says:

    European football is generally even worse for swapping managers. I think there’s only a handful in the Premier League who have been at the same club for more than a season…

    Ferguson narrowly escaped being fired early on, and benefitted from both changing the team system over the years, and also being pretty good at bringing talented young players into the squad from both home and abroad…

    As a Chelsea fan I’ve been waiting about 20 years for him to retire…still looking forward to the day he does!

  • Grant says:

    Nice comparisons between the two footballs. Was not expecting that.

  • Andres Colmenares says:

    here’s an inspiring talk by one of the greatest.. Pep Guardiola from Barcelona FC

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