They are the footballing equivalent of Archie from The Fast Show.
The wanna-be managers who bore audiences into a state of absolute stupefaction with their long, drawn-out monologues about the strengths of a diamond formation, the benefits of 4-4-2 versus 4-3-3 or how best to combat a false nine. They’ve been there, seen it and done it, either on a Premier League ground or a park pitch somewhere near you.
And, guess what, it’s all a load of absolute cobblers. Because, as Neil Warnock has proved since taking charge of Rotherham, management isn’t about understanding systems or being able to shuffle magnets around on a tactics board. It’s essentially about people. Working with them inspiring them and finding ways of helping sometimes limited players squeeze out every last drop of talent. A theory which, I strongly suspect, recent events at Sheffield United also prove.
Many folk, let’s be frank, enjoyed taking the mickey out of Nigel Adkins during his first nine months in charge. As results went south, particularly during an abysmal Autumn period, the 51-year-old’s uber-positive outlook and motivational catchphrases became easy sticks to beat him with. By his own admission, (Adkins cuts a much more pragmatic figure in private than he does in public), such an upbeat approach is always bound to grate.
But, as United prepare to face Barnsley tomorrow searching for their fourth win in five outings and we all try to fathom the reasons behind their much-improved form, the answer probably does not lie in the switch to a back three or some well-executed set-piece routines. No, it can probably be found in the dressing room where, after some surgery in the transfer market and a few character assessments behind the scenes, Adkins is now preaching to an audience far more receptive than the one he first encountered nearly 47 weeks ago.
A fact which might not impress the self-appointed strategic experts. But which, in my opinion at least, is key.
Now don’t get me wrong, managers need to understand the mechanics of football. They need to be able to react quickly when the opposition changes tact during the course of a match. Devise plans about how best to disguise their squad’s weaknesses and accentuate its strengths. But that knowledge is not the be all and end all. It is not, despite what many now entering the professional seem to believe, the biggest part of the job.
Most of that, the practical nuts and bolts, should be the preserve of the coaching staff. Good managers, great managers even, penetrate their player’s psyches. They lead.