On Saturday, I had the pleasure of watching Sheffield Wednesday versus Derby County in the company of former Owls and England manager Howard Wilkinson.
Like most football fans, I’m guilty of fancying myself a bit as a football manager, mostly from misspent time in my youth playing legendary computer game ‘Championship Manager.’
It was however, an education to get the insight of Howard, a man who has seen it and done it in the game. Particularly fascinating was his take on the psychology of being a modern day manager; the balance between trying to plan for the long term whilst realising that your future can often depend on the result of the very next game.
Managers are very rarely given time to get their feet under the table these days, never mind be allowed to build a lasting legacy.
The modern game has added pressures with super agents, transfer windows and multi-millionaire players. Tony Pulis didn’t even make it to the first game with Crystal Palace and Mark Robins lost his job at Huddersfield after one game of the season.
Louis van Gaal has been hailed as a tactical genius but even he couldn’t prevent Manchester United from losing to Swansea City on the opening day of the season. Despite the fanfare which greeted his arrival, there’s no doubt that there is a big job to be done at Old Trafford. But will he be given time to rebuild?
With the pressures that surround such a big club, what is considered a success for United this season? In my opinion, the job facing van Gaal sums up exactly how good Sir Alex Ferguson actually was. In his final season he took a very similar Manchester United squad to the one which finished seventh last season under David Moyes and won the title by 11 points.
Replacing Fergie has to be the hardest job in football and you’d need to look a long way back in football history for a comparable scenario. In the 1960s and early seventies, Leeds United, under the stewardship of Don Revie, won two league titles and multiple cups in what was the club’s most successful era.
After Revie’s departure in 1974, it took Leeds some 18 years and 11 managers before they became champions of England again. And the manager in question? Yes, you’ve guessed it; Howard Wilkinson. A great story, especially when the man in question was the man telling it.