Football Management: The Human Factor

Football Management: The Human Factor

October 2021 | Sport

Steve Bruce was right to call out the abuse suffered by Premier League football managers. It's a blight on the game, that harms the teams they manage.

It is the takeover that everyone knew about, but it still came out of nowhere. The purchase of Newcastle by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund took everyone by surprise earlier this month. Not surprisingly, it has generated plenty of opposition from other clubs in the Premier League and beyond. It's unambiguously bad news for the big 6, who face the prospect of another oil club with virtually unlimited money.

The first big casualty though, was Steve Bruce, who lost his job as Newcastle manager a week later than expected. He exited St James Park with a parting shot at the Newcastle fans, who have spent the last two years hurling abuse at him. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he spoke of the impact that abuse has had on his wife and family. He stopped short of formally announcing his retirement, but it was pretty clear that the experience had put him and other coaches off taking future jobs in football management.

Bruce has been quickly backed by his erstwhile managerial colleagues. Mikel Arteta was the most forthright in his comments. That's not surprising given the immense pressure he is under following Arsenal's mixed form this season. There is plenty to criticise about both Arsenal and Newcastle's performances on the pitch in recent months. However, at times that criticism has crossed the line into personal abuse against Arteta and Bruce. That might make fans happy, but ultimately it helps no one.

Football management is a tough gig. It's an extremely high pressure job with unrealistic expectations that constantly puts you in the public eye. The fans are seldom happy, the owner never gives sufficient backing, and the players know they can get you sacked in a heartbeat. Football Manager has convinced many fans that they can do a better job running their team than the current incumbent. Yet, the reality is far harder than any video game.

Managers know about the challenges of the job. Football is a result based business, and when teams inevitably underperform, the manager is always the first man to take the blame. Job security is low, and tenures are short at the elite level for a reason. Managers get paid handsomely as a consequence, frequently getting large payoffs when they do lose their jobs.

Yet, coaching at the elite level is stressful enough without having to worry about the health and welfare of your family. Management can become all-encompassing because of the sheer number of games during the season. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have both spoken about the focus and intensity needed to build a winning team. Both men take regular sabbaticals between jobs in order to develop their skills and recharge their energy levels.

Managers need a break during the season too.  We often forget it, but they're still human after all. When they get home from a long day at the training ground, all they want to do is switch off and unwind. Family and loved ones are an essential part of that. They form the core of a manager's support group. Personal happiness is a crucial ingredient for a successful football manager. There are plenty of examples of off the field troubles affecting on the pitch performance.

That's why it's so important that fans tread the right line between criticism and personal abuse. Managers must have thick skins and unshakeable self-confidence in order to succeed at their jobs. That's well understood. Constructive criticism can have a useful purpose. A successful coach will ignore bad advice and accept good advice, regardless of the source. Threats and abuse help no one. If anything, they're a distraction that actively harms the team. It's long past time someone considered the human consequences of this problem.