The manager will lie to you, bewilder you, become an object of near-hatred or, like Stein, Shankly and Busby, assume mythical status. You are never indifferent to the man who picks your football team; you are hardly ever privy to his real thinking either.
Yet, for all his high profile now, between the First and Second World Wars the manager was often a forgotten figure if one was regarded as necessary at all. At Aston Villa, for example, no one of that title was appointed until 1958, which is strange at a club who, under the present chairman Doug Ellis, seem to like the breed so much they want a different one for Christmas every other year.
Conversely, Herbert Chapman showed what a secretary/manager could do, building two great sides at Huddersfield Town and Arsenal to ensure domination of the 20s and early 30s. He was such a dominant figure that he beame the almost unheard-of example of a manager being still in his job at his death.
This is a strange book, part biography, part interview, part a list of quotes which attempts, according to its cover, to delve "beyond the cliches to discover the secrets of the men behind the myths". Whether it does that is debatable, but that does not detract from it as a good read.
Dave Cottrell's examination of Liverpool's Boot Room legend is excellent. A Liverpool fan, he strips away the aura around Bill Shankly to reveal a man who almost left Anfield after a season; someone who was in charge while Liverpool failed to win a trophy between 1966 and 1973; a xenophobic eccentric who stuck so stubbornly to GMT on a tour of the United States that he handed out the team sheets to his players at 3am.
Yet only a fool would describe him as anything but a magnificent manager. Shankly, like Alex Ferguson, had the personality to withstand periods of relative failure. Maybe that is the secret of being a great. If you look and sound as though you know what you are doing, the big characters get away with it for longer than most.
The radio commentator Jimmy Armfield, who took Leeds United to the European Cup final in 1975, was one of the many unlucky managers who did not get the time and his are appropriate words.
"The three toughest jobs in the world," he said, "are football managing, lion taming and mountain rescue... in that order."
Guy HodgsonReuse content