Can anyone bear the strain of being a manager today?

Howard Wilkinson, the FA's technical director and former Leeds manager, on the pressures that caused Keegan to quit Newcastle
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The Independent Online
The last time I saw Kevin Keegan on television I thought he looked extremely ill. Compared with the day nearly five years ago when he became manager of Newcastle United, he appeared to have aged by at least 15 years.

It came as no surprise to me yesterday when he resigned. I have increasingly sensed in his eyes, in his expressions and in his voice the signals of the stresses he has started to feel.

Managers have always been under pressure to succeed - and always will be - but what is different today is the intensity of outside influences over which you have no control. While you have a direct influence on buying and selling players and coaching your team, there is nothing you can do about what reporters write, what television and radio commentators say, and what fans demand.

One of the great problems is the immediacy of it all. No sooner has the final whistle gone than you are asked to give your views on radio, television and in the press. Then there are the radio and television phone-ins, with fans giving their instant judgements.

I do not think I am alone in detecting a significant rise in the impatience and intolerance of many supporters. You see it in their faces on your way to games from your privileged position in the team bus. The banter has always been there, but certainly as recently as 10 years ago it was good-natured.

Today you are exposed to gestures and words of absolute hatred and vilification. I have seen parents mouthing obscenities in front of their own seven- and eight-year-old children that would cause any decent parent to switch off were it on radio or television.

My way of coping was to concentrate solely on those things over which I had control and blank my mind to all the matters over which I had no influence.

In our championship year at Leeds, for instance, I remember driving back from a reserve match whilst Manchester United were playing at West Ham in a game crucial to the title race. I turned the radio off. I could have listened to the match commentary, but to me there was no point. There was nothing I could do to influence the outcome and I knew that I would have to deal with whatever the consequences were the following day by working with my own players.

Perhaps it is an advantage to have been a player who lacked outstanding ability. As players, Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan generally went from one success to another. Their ability was supreme. Failure was something they rarely encountered and had little experience of dealing with. In contrast, as I get older it seems to me that the most important abilities to develop are dealing with criticism and failure.

Both Kevin and Kenny were masters of control: they controlled the ball at all times and because of their ability generally managed to control not only their team but also the game. Control of your own destiny is largely the prerogative of the good player.

As a manager you quickly realise that the opposite is the case: that you must learn to cope with things very much out of your control.

Loneliness is a problem. You alone have to pick the team and are responsible for its performance. In your attempts to preserve a positive influence over your players you may frequently vent your frustration on those nearest and dearest.

There are measures we could take to alleviate these pressures, but I think you are either the sort of person who copes or you are not. It would help if we played fewer matches. Managers, like players, need time between games both to wind down and to get back up for the next match.

Being more specific about the role of the manager might also help. I am convinced that the manager's job at the bigger clubs should increasingly be about simply preparing the first team for matches. Other people must be given responsibility for signing players, negotiating contracts, and, where possible, dealing with the outside world.

Will it change? I do not think so. Money is pouring into the game more quickly than it can be dealt with. Given these rewards, the fear of failure intensifies to an illogical point. We should all remember that every time someone wins, someone else must lose.

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