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Will You Manage? By Musa Okwonga
This gaffer take is a special one
Monday 11 October 2010
Party leaders, newspaper editors, head teachers and football managers must tick more or less the same boxes to stand any chance of success: a certain charisma, obviously, and the ability to inspire and invigorate, to instil a sense of higher purpose.
A rare skill set indeed. The former Chelsea manager José Mourinho famously referred to himself as The Special One; the greatest leaders make all their followers feel like Special Ones. Even with all the elements in place, there are no cast-iron guarantees: events, dear boy, can rudely intrude.
For all the acres of print and hours of airtime, there's still a sense that sport behind the scenes is an hermetic society, with coaches and managers the dressing-room alchemists. And like Hollywood – where, as William Goldman put it, "no one knows anything" – the alchemists rarely demonstrate any insight into why they succeed or fail. So in attempting to pin down what makes a great football manager, Musa Okwonga is dealing with an assortment of Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns.
His debut, A Cultured Left Foot, was easily the most intelligent football book of 2007, spot-on in its analyses, heroic in its range of references. His follow-up takes a similarly fruitful approach: note the index, in which Jesus Christ is followed by Paul Jewell, who used to manage Wigan Athletic. Hard on the heels of Bertie Mee (who took Arsenal to the league and cup double in 1971) comes Mehmed the Conqueror (who led the Ottoman Empire to the double over the Byzantine Empire in 1453).
The difficulty in pinning down what makes a successful manager is underlined when Okwonga, while playing for the England writers' team, is coached briefly by Aidy Boothroyd, who worked wonders at Watford FC. "There was no one thing about Boothroyd that was remarkable; it was the cumulative effect of what he did that was compelling." Boothroyd himself mentions Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and it becomes clear throughout this entertaining book that if there is any secret to success in football management, it involves an awful lot of links in a long chain. If Okwonga doesn't quite manage to nail that secret, it's because there are too many imponderables. It's unlikely that his search was aided, however, by a big sign at Watford's training ground: "What we do in the dark will come to the light. The God of football sees everything."
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