Three Wise Men, Part two: the loneliness of management

In the final part of our Christmas series on the art and science of coaching and managing elite teams, our canny trio continue to chat over a long lunch

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The Independent Online

It being Christmas, The Independent gathered together three wise men, to discuss managing elite sports teams, over lunch at the Kensington Roof Gardens' Babylon restaurant in west London. Glenn Moore, the football editor, and Chris Hewett, rugby union correspondent, asked questions and took notes.

Moore Is management a lonely job?

Warnock I couldn't do my job without my missus and kids. They do take it. The other weekend, we played West Brom, had a good goal disallowed and they equalised. That was two points lost. I have to go to Leeds after that game to my grandson's first birthday party and I don't really want to talk to anybody. I put 606 on and listen to all those raggedy-arsed callers and Sharon's going: "Can't the kids have a film on?" We get to Leeds and no one [in my family] talks to me for two days. It's wrong, and I won't miss that. I've two young kids and I want to be around for them as they grow up.

Fraser It is lonely. It helps to go and ask for advice, opening up to someone. We have someone at Middlesex I use. He's not really a sports psychologist, he does lots of work with management people. I just pick his brain, talk through situations, try and run some ideas around.

Ashton I've got a mentor. My guy is ex-Royal Navy. He just checks in with me every couple of months and says: "Let's have a look at what you've done the last eight weeks and how it fits in with your philosophy. Does that fit it? Does that? No? Why are you doing it?' It's like having an extra parent. Someone from outside your sport is sometimes better. They have no baggage and a different perspective. If it was someone from the world of rugby union, I'd constantly be thinking: 'I know more about that than you do.'

Warnock I was introduced to Peter Kay from Sporting Chance and I had a chat with him for 45 minutes. I got more out of it than anything for the last two months, but I wouldn't want one of my assistants not to have played football. I talk to them about players, about the game – at half-time before I talk to the players I go into a quiet area with them and have a chat. You need good people, and you need your own people. If you don't have that, it can become incredibly lonely.

Fraser How long does it take to get your own people?

Warnock You have to go back to your time and think of somebody. I took Mick Jones on. I'd never worked with him, but I met him when he was managing Peterborough. We had a drink after the game and I thought 'he talks a lot of sense', so when I was at Notts County I asked if he would be my assistant. He's still with me. We had a falling-out when he stayed on at Plymouth after I left but I remembered how Cloughie regretted not making up with Peter Taylor, and I thought, 'life's too short'. So I offered an olive branch and he came, and I'm glad he's with me. Mick's always there when I want to talk to him, and I want to talk to him every day about something. He's like my football wife. Your first priority is someone you can trust, and who has the same views on your sport as you have. Once you have someone like that you stick with them the rest of your life.

Fraser What's the biggest decision you make each week?

Warnock Probably tactically, how we are going to play against the opponents and the personnel involved in that.

Fraser Our big decision is selection and toss. In rugby or football you have substitutes, and it's only 80-90 minutes. We have four days, if you get it wrong – and trying to read a pitch is bloody hard – the players have to deal with it. For you guys half-time seems a huge thing to me.

Warnock It is, it's massive, five to 10 minutes before the game, and half-time, are the two main things of the week.

Ashton I've changed over the years. At half-time I only ever say two things to the team. One: we're going to do this better going forward; Two: we've got to do this better when we haven't got the ball. They won't remember any more than that. If you start going through a list of things, by the time you get to point four, they'll be thinking: 'What was point one?' If your coaching sessions are dictatorial, then on match day they'll be sitting there waiting, thinking: 'What are we going to do today? He's going to tell us. And if it goes wrong, he's got to tell us something else at half-time.' I think you get away from what I call 'game-understanding', by which I mean why we do things. Not how do we do them technically, but why, where and when – in which part of the pitch? A lot of players never understand that.

Moore How much do you discuss things with players ?

Ashton When I was a young coach I was quite dictatorial because I felt I should be in charge. Over the years I've understood there are players in my teams who know bits and pieces of the game more than I do, so why not use them to make our team better? I've never been afraid to ask questions of players, even in the middle of a session. I'll ask: 'Is there anything else which will make this better?' And if they come up with something we'll run with that.

Warnock I involve players more now. I speak to one or two of the lads, senior pros like Joey Barton, Shaun Derry, Kieron Dyer and if I feel what they are saying is right I'm not averse to changing it.

Hewett When you were coaching England, Brian, did the players buy into the philosophy – "I'm an enabler, you're playing the game, you have to make the decisions on the pitch"? It seemed from the outside some did, some didn't.

Ashton A lot of it depended on what they were used to at their clubs. If they had a slightly dictatorial coach they weren't used to being expected to make decisions and run the game on the field. And this was the biggest stage of all.

Warnock I don't know how it came about that Martin Johnson was given the responsibility of managing the England rugby team. That was terrible. I didn't think it was fair on Martin being put in that position. I know he had leadership ability as a player but it's not the same. Angus will have learnt more in his period with Middlesex now than when he played. It's totally different. There is nothing like management.

Fraser Absolutely. In management you take satisfaction from your side doing well, but when you win it is relief rather than joy. The hardest thing to do is to stand back and let things happen, but often it's the best thing. If you are trying to get involved in every little thing...

Warnock ... it'll do your head in.

Fraser You have to trust your support staff. Let them coach, let them deal with things.

Ashton If you don't, your support staff will stand back and let you do everything. And you can't. And the last place to do everything is the time between the first whistle and the final whistle. Once that first whistle goes, it's down to players.

Warnock You are only as good as your players. Make no mistake.

Ashton You know as a manager or a coach that, at some point, your players will let you down. That was one of the first things that someone told me.

Warnock Players blame everything but themselves. You can't give them any excuses.

Fraser What's more important, performance or result?

Warnock For a professional it has to be the result. We lost to Man City a couple of weeks ago and everyone said, 'you played well today, great performance', but we've no points. But if you can win and play well, that's the ideal.

Moore If Nick Mallett gets the rugby job, your sports – England's main three sports – will all have a foreigner coaching the national team. How do you feel about that?

Warnock I think it is wrong. I think England should be managed by someone from our own country. But maybe I'm old-fashioned. Arsène Wenger's changed our football more than anyone, and I wouldn't mind him managing England.

Ashton Seventy-five per cent of me goes along with that, the only proviso I would have is if there is not a coach deemed good enough to take the national side, then you might look elsewhere. But then you put a lot of English coaches with him.

Fraser Sometimes it happens because it seems more glamorous to get an overseas coach, you've looked worldwide rather than in this country's borders, but cricket has always been pretty cosmopolitan. I came into an England side that had Robin Smith, Graeme Hick, Allan Lamb, Philip de Freitas, Gladstone Small, Devon Malcolm, Chris Lewis playing for them. You get used to playing with people who aren't necessarily born in Britain, or are from different backgrounds.

Warnock Angus, would you like to manage the England team? I'm saying long-term if you made a success of what you're doing now.

Fraser I'd like to be involved in some capacity.

Warnock I'm like that, it's the pinnacle of managing to manage your own country. I don't believe any Englishman would turn it down. I'd like to see England players playing the way they do for their clubs and I think it's possible, that's why I'd love Harry Redknapp to get the job. I think he'd encourage exciting football. Like Harry, I've always wanted my fans, at whatever club, to go home thinking, they've seen some shots, crosses and saves, and they've ooh-ed and aah-ed. When I sit in the bath after a game, the lads have gone for a warm-down and I've been brought a cup of tea...

Fraser [incredulous]: You have a bath after every game?

Warnock Yes [Fraser laughs]. When I was at Sheffield United I'd sit there, and in my mind I'd be walking home like I did as a kid from Bramall Lane with my dad, and we'd go round the corner, past the Territorial Army camp, up the hill, and I'd say to him, "It were brilliant today, Dad, weren't it?" I'd sit in the bath thinking, '25,000 people went home today delighted'. That's a great feeling. Moments like that are why we do this.

The panel

Brian Ashton

Head coach of England's 2007 Rugby World Cup finalists. Previously coached Ireland and Bath, now technical director at National League One Fylde.

Angus Fraser

Former England Test cricketer, ex-cricket correspondent of The Independent, now managing director of cricket at Middlesex.

Neil Warnock

The manager of Premier League football club Queen's Park Rangers, which is his 10th job in a 31-year management career.

Read columns by Neil Warnock and Brian Ashton in 'The Independent' every Saturday

Watch QPR train and have lunch with Neil Warnock, or go to Lord's with Angus Fraser. Visit independent.co.uk/auction

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