Soccer

What separates the good from the great managers and a story for The News Letter

The buck for the sorry state of Liverpool at present stops with the manager
The buck for the sorry state of Liverpool at present stops with the manager The buck for the sorry state of Liverpool at present stops with the manager

WHAT makes a manager ‘great’? What’s the difference between the men who inspire a golden period of success and the elite who build a dynasty?

Managers can come into a club, or a county, and have success over a few inspired seasons. For a while the formula can work brilliantly but if the manager sticks with the same players for too long, or their tactics get figured out and become stale, or if they lose that obsessive fire in their bellies they’ll inevitably reach the end of the road.

Success is so hard to maintain and the ability to constantly adapt and change with the times, to out-think new rivals with innovative tactics, to change support staff, bring in players and build a new team while being ruthless enough to replace loyal servants with fresh faces is a rare gift.

Only the greatest managers have the appetite to sustain long-term success and, by seeing problems coming down the road, stay ahead by thinking ahead.

Jurgen Klopp is a very good manager, but not one of the greats.

Now you can’t be over-critical of Merseyside’s favourite German. For God’s sake he came within a point of winning the double last year! His record with Liverpool is brilliant: He has won the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup…

He’s a brilliant tactician, a superb motivator and leader of men and he’ll go down in club folklore but the great managers keep their teams competitive season after season.

Liverpool aren’t competitive this season and you can’t put that down to injuries or the loss of form by key players; it’s been Klopp’s failure to plan ahead that has come home to roost.

The sight of Jordan Henderson being replaced by 37-year-old James Milner as Real Madrid ran riot on Tuesday night was the signal of an era ending at Anfield. It shone a spotlight on the failure to rebuild and plan for the future to ensure that the Liverpool midfield retained the legs and creativity to compete with the best.

It’s not Henderson’s fault, nor is it Milner’s. Henderson has lifted every trophy going in his time at Anfield and Milner has been a terrific servant to the club and a model professional since he burst onto the scene with Leeds.

The buck for the sorry state of Liverpool at present stops with the manager.

I’m no Man United fan, I cheered on every team he came up against, but wouldn’t Alex Ferguson have seen Tuesday night coming? Wouldn’t he have looked critically at his midfield and realised that fresh legs were required and then moved heaven and earth to bring in the players he wanted to address the issue and keep the trophies coming in?

Of course he would and if Father Time hadn’t caught up with him, Ferguson would still be competing for titles with United.

Pep Guardiola is in the Ferguson mould.

Yes, Manchester City’s super-heavyweight clout in the transfer market (albeit with numerous alleged breaches of Premier League financial rules) has played a part in his success story. He is at a club that can afford to take a multi-million pound punt on a player and if you can buy up the best talent around – even to have them warming the bench - then you’re obviously onto a winner.

The Spaniard is a serial winner and that’s why he gets the big bucks. In his 13 full seasons in management - four at Barcelona, three at Bayern Munich and six (he’s in his seventh) at Manchester City - his worst league finish was third in 2016/17 and that was his first season in England.

He won La Liga three times with Barca and then completed a Bundesliga treble with Bayern. At City he has captured four Premier League titles, four League Cups and the FA Cup. The only trophy to elude him is the big ’un – the Champions League – which he won twice at Barcelona.

Finishing runners-up in 2021 is his best in Manchester so far and he will pursue it relentlessly and ruthlessly. Players have come and, when they’ve reached the end of their usefulness, they have been moved on with medals in their pockets and a very healthy balance in their bank accounts.

The clubs, the countries and the players may change but Guardiola’s intensity and drive never slackens because he knows that in the dog-eat-dog world of sport you really are only as good as your last game.

Jarlath Burns has been elected the next president of the GAA
Jarlath Burns has been elected the next president of the GAA Jarlath Burns has been elected the next president of the GAA

“WILL The News Letter get a GAA correspondent now?” asked one of the delegates at Congress last weekend with a wry smile on his face.

Ulster’s Jarlath Burns had been elected as the 14st President of the GAA and the delegate wondered out loud, and a little mischievously, whether ‘the world’s oldest newspaper’ would deem his success as a story with covering.

As it turned out, the election of Armagh native Burns didn’t merit a single line in Monday's edition.

I can remember – and it’s not that long ago – when The News Letter did give some coverage to the GAA. But no more, unless there is some controversy attached.

It’s the business of newspapers to serve up what their readership wants and of course I get that. Gaelic Games are not the first point of sporting interest for News Letter faithful any more than, let’s say, cricket or motorsport is for The Irish News readership.

But the Irish News does cover cricket and motorsport and rightly so.

And why? Because genuine fans of sport are drawn to all manner of sports. For example, at half-time during a recent National League match I was intrigued to overhear some Tyrone die-hards debate - as they enjoyed the classic half-time cup-of-tea-and-ham-sandwich combo at the back of the press box - whether Test Match cricket was superior to the 20/20 format.

It’s Test Match for me lads, but that’s enough about cricket.

The News Letter didn’t deem Jarlath Burns’ election worthy of coverage after an historic weekend and that’s a shame.

The GAA’s next President has consistently reached out to the Unionist community. As principal of St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook he welcomed the Orange Order into the school to speak to his pupils about their history and traditions.

You would like to think that the Orange Order learned as much as they taught on their visit and rumour has it that the new Uachtaran received a congratulatory message from the Order after his election.

Now there’s a wee story for The News Letter…