It didn’t look like it as his side was being walloped 7-0 at the Nou Camp last night, but Gary Neville is still one of life’s winners. Hardworking, intelligent, passionate and talented, he’s the type to always give it his very best shot. And he doesn’t often fail.
Success at Valencia may elude him though. And what his tribulations in Spain highlight - in the starkest terms - is the difference between broadcast analysis and football management.
It’s the same game, you can look at it through the same eyes, and have the exact same understanding of what you have just seen, but the two roles are actually extraordinarily contrasting.
In one it’s your job to add value to the audience with insights. Being knowledgeable, self-assured, succinct, lucid and informative is important.
In the other it’s your job to influence the shape of the match, and the efforts of your players. Being astute, calm, intuitive, manipulative with your words, motivational and forthright in decision-making helps greatly.
In punditry you have the time to assess key patterns. You watch from a perfect view.
In management you have to sense them there and then, making reactive decisions based on those judgments. You watch from pitch level.
The roles are so alien that rising to the top of the tree in one field, will never entitle you to automatic success in the other. To think otherwise is crazy.
Last night Gary Lineker tweeted that it was ‘so much easier on the telly’ and he’s right in one respect, but not every great manager can adapt to life in front of the camera either.
Certain coaches make horrendous pundits, even when you know their knowledge base is high. They just can’t articulate their opinions in a way that provokes thought to those less learned than they are.
Having spent 25 years in the game I’d say the most critical skill a football manager needs is an ability to understand people, and what makes them tick. Top gaffers aren’t just tactically clued up; they have to be think-on-their-feet psychologists too.
Whether it’s at the training ground, in team meetings, one to one chats, or when barking instructions from the technical area, every boss has to carefully think about their delivery.
Footballers are so street-wise by nature. They pick up on anything and everything that’s said. Many are paranoid.
So when a manager or coach doesn’t say the right thing in the right way, it can have a seriously counter-productive impact. Not just on the day, but issues can fester inside players’ heads for weeks and months on end. This affects performance.
Dealing with the emotions of 20-30 players, getting the vibe right seven days a week, takes a very smart mind. Managers are treading this fine line.
Some players feed off praise (that was me!). Others respond to being screamed at. Some players prefer being left to their own devices (me again). Others feed off verbal diarrhea. Some players like taking it easy during the week. Others have to approach each training session like it’s a match. (I was somewhere in between)
We are all different animals. The greatest managers understand and balance that dynamic, while also studying and analysing the football itself in great detail.
I’ve never done it, but football management is a far more complex role than people give it credit for. To achieve continued success I imagine serious brainpower, planning and awareness of others is required. Neville is finding this out as we speak.
Does he have the all-round mindset to lead a squad of egotistical footballers, keeping them controlled, happy and united?
Based on a short video clip that did the rounds on Twitter last month, Neville seemed over-agitated in the technical area, showing exasperation aplenty. That may not have been the norm, but too much of that might be counter productive.
We know he understands the game, we know he can express his opinion in a concise manner. We also know his tactical judgment is better than sound.
But can Gary Neville also master the art of managing personalities too? It would be hard enough in his own native tongue, so to do it in Spain with such inexperience would be a quite incredible achievement.
We know he loves a challenge. Getting this one right will be his toughest test yet.
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