Dr Sue Bridgewater: Woman's vital lessons in a manager's world

Raising the game: Pearce is latest in line of star students on a course that coaches coaches
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The Independent Online

As every season goes by, it takes Dr Sue Bridgewater longer to study the football results. The gamut of emotions covered by supporting Sunderland since the age of eight is replicated within a single Saturday as she checks the progress of the classes of 2003, 2004 and now 2005 who have passed through her course in football management at the University of Warwick Business School.

As every season goes by, it takes Dr Sue Bridgewater longer to study the football results. The gamut of emotions covered by supporting Sunderland since the age of eight is replicated within a single Saturday as she checks the progress of the classes of 2003, 2004 and now 2005 who have passed through her course in football management at the University of Warwick Business School.

Stuart Pearce's recent elevation at Manchester City means there are now two alumni - Mark Hughes at Blackburn was the first - among the 20 Premiership managers, plus others in charge of Championship clubs: Kevin Blackwell (Leeds), Kenny Jackett (Swansea) and Brian Laws (Scunthorpe). Among the 13 on this year's course are Brentford's innovative Martin Allen - jumping in rivers is not included on the curriculum, though motivation is - and three Premiership assistants in Chris "Two Jobs" Hughton (Tottenham and Republic of Ireland), Phil Brown (Bolton) and Kit Symons (Crystal Palace).

A common thread may be discerned: these are ambitious young men, all playing their part in a commendable trend towards introducing greater qualifications for managers and coaches, rather than merely offering jobs to big-name applicants and hoping for the best. Premiership managers must now hold the Uefa Pro Licence unless, like Sir Alex Ferguson, they have 10 years' experience; Warwick's Certificate of Applied Management is an adjunct, giving greater emphasis to aspects of the job other than actual coaching.

"In most fields," Bridgewater says, "you have to be qualified before you go off and do the job, as is the case with football in most European countries. We researched carefully what managers and future managers would find useful. The League Managers' Association had commissioned research, identifying a whole range of skills, such as media handling, public speaking, presenting a positive image, negotiating with players and agents, and so on. We interviewed current managers and asked them, 'What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?' And we asked chairmen what they wanted in a manager. We added in stress management, time management, understanding basic financial documents and a whole lot more."

All this began some three years ago, the LMA, Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association having felt for some time that more should be done to prepare young innocents for the high-risk world of football management, with its absurdly high casualty rates. The authorities came up with the funding, and Warwick put together a team of 20 teachers, each with their own relevant specialisms - in finance, media, psychology, image management and so on. The sort of thing, in other words, that some old-timers - perhaps some of the greats - might have snorted at. According to Bridgewater: "People had said that maybe the older managers would say it wasn't like that in their day, but all of them were very supportive. We've also adapted it as new things come in. For example, finance now has more emphasis on what happens if your club goes into administration. So the idea is that these things should be very useful to them as well as leading to an academic qualification."

As most of those who take the course are already working in football - sometimes still playing - it has to be done on a part-time basis. There is a week's introduction before the new season starts and a week afterwards, with day-release sessions five times during the year and study in between through conference calls and websites, all linked by written assignments subject to continuous assessment. Contrary to any patronising notions about football and education, Bridgewater has been impressed by the academic work: "The level of formal education is very varied. Someone like [current student] Iffy Onuora has a degree in economics, a postgraduate degree in sports law, plus a full set of coaching badges; Brian McClair, who did the course, has a degree. Whereas Mark Hughes said he was 15 when Manchester United asked him to sign for them, and so he kind of lost interest in education. And I think if I'd have been that good at something, maybe I would have too."

Instead, Bridgewater, 41, went on from school in Sunderland to read modern languages at Durham University, then did a masters degree at Warwick and eventually returned there after working for Unilever as a marketing strategist. Her own research work in football, often taken up by clubs and the relevant professional bodies, has centred on why people support a particular team and how they react in bad times; sports sponsorship and new markets, especially in the Far East; understanding risk; and looking at LMA data to define what makes a successful manager.

By June, a total of 33 students will have completed the course. Gary Speed and Les Ferdinand are among those who have expressed an interest. "It's great to see them coming through as managers and assistants, though you worry for them and then rejoice in their successes," Bridgewater says. Or commiserate in their failure; it is not unknown for someone on the course to be sacked halfway through, which is when careful handling is required: "I generally text to say sorry, and tell them to get in touch if we can help. The thing that comes across to me most is what a lonely job it is."

Whether or not they last the season in football, nobody has yet dropped out of the course, and their testimonials about it are convincing. Pearce, who has already impressed officials at City with his all-round awareness of how a club works, says: "To me the bottom line is that the more education you can give yourself, and the more preparation you do, the less chance there is of failing." Kevin Blackwell accepted the Leeds job while doing the course, and made sure, thanks to what he learnt on it, that he was able to grasp - as much as anyone could - the full magnitude of the club's financial situation.

"I couldn't have done this job without it," he now says of the course. "It should be compulsory for any aspiring manager."

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