The manager must take command

by Will Cullen

In America over the last few days a bullying case has rocked the NFL. Miami Dolphins Jonathan Martin has walked away from the franchise amid reports of bullying from his team-mate Richie Incognito. Now there is a huge debate going on at present as to the stance the NFL should take on this matter. Some players have said the Martin, 6’5′ / 312 defensive tackle, acted like “a coward and told like a kid instead of being a man and confronting him [Martin]”.

Incognito has been accused of racial slurs contained in texts he has sent to Martin and threatening voice mails.  This is currently ongoing and the whole of American sport has been brought into this incident. Players from across the league have given their thoughts to the situation. It is understood that Martin has sought counselling for the distress caused by Incognito. Now whether you agree with Martins actions of complaining and walking out is another story. The issue that is of interest to me is how the manager deals with it, how the emphasis of just being there to win games has changed. In an old article of mine I discussed the importance of man management in sports today. Gary Curneen also highlights in his website the new roles managers in football today must take on board to ensure they and their teams are successful.

So, as much as Martin is suffering, and Incognito is being ridiculed, like any team, the reaction and stance of your manager or coach in a situation like this represents that of your club or as they say in America, the franchise . Here is what Dolphins coach, Joe Philbin had to say about the incident:

I want you to know as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins I am in charge of the workplace atmosphere. Since April 10, 2012 when the players first came here and I was the head coach, every decision I’ve made and everything we’ve done to the facility has been done with one thing in mind, and that is to help our players and our organization reach their full potential. Any type of conduct, behavior that detracts from that behavior is not acceptable and is not tolerated.

Not a bad response but not a great one. Typical comments fed down from the top Dolphin I presume.

Many will ask did Martin go to Philbin about what was going on. Did players see what was going on and turn a blind eye? Miami are the center of attention of the NFL for all the wrong reasons. And now the job of bringing this team to glory will be even harder for Philbin with a dressing room in ruins. A bad dressing room, especially one like the Dolphins one can deter you from reaching your goal. In Football it is the same. Bullying cannot be tolerated.

Football managers nowadays find themselves in similar situations to that of Philbin. Dealing with players getting out of line, making comments on twitter and not getting on with team mates is an average day for a manager. A lot of players say that you dont have to be mates off to field to work well on the field. This is true. The prime example being Teddy Sheringham and Andy or Andrew Cole who supposedly didn’t even speak, yet worked so well on the pitch. But not talking to a team mate and bullying him is different. The thing is, like the Robbie Rogers story, I feel bullying, like homophobia, is still present in the dressing. Not banter, bullying. There is a difference. Banter turns into bullying. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

But how does a coach or manager deal with something like this. A manager now has some many things to think about. The result is the ultimate. You are there to win and be successful, but I guess it is how you define your success. Do you do all you can to win and during the process treat your players poorly, ignore them and just get the result. Do you become a dictator and rule with an iron fist? Or is success more than just the three points on the Saturday? Is it about team spirit, club identify or playing philosophy. Being a football manager today demands so much. It demands how to deal with players with egos, with outside influences, with personal issues and problems.

In the book The Manager: Inside the Minds of Footballs Leaders by Mike Carson, Harry Redknapp says that on turning up to training in the morning, he never knows what can happen. Who has issues or is sick or someone player needs to move or another is being disruptive. In Ferguson’s new book, he speaks of Diego Forlan being a great player but he had outsides issues that affected his impact on the team. So, as much as you may have a great player or talented team, keeping them all happy, in line and in a good happy working environment is vitally important. Allowing bullying to occur doesn’t create such an environment does it?

Let’s put this NFL bullying story into the Premier League. If one player came out and revealed he was being bullied by another team member how do you think his team’s mates would react. To be honest, it doesn’t matter because if the manager is strong and is in charge and has the respect of the dressing room, he will notice something like this occurring and nip it in the bud straight away. He will be approachable and the victimised player will feel comfortable telling his coach the problems he faces. The coach will then address the situation. He will meet with both players and one way or another it will be resolved.  The manager is the key to this issue. Look what Ferguson has done at United when players have disrupted the dressing room, upset team-mates or damaged the name of the club. Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Pual McGrath, Norman Whiteside and David Beckham have all been kicked out of United for one of the reasons above.

In Keane’s case, he ridiculed his team mates publicly and his own manager. Immediately Ferguson said to his assistant” he has to go. 100% he has to go”. And within weeks he was gone. That’s how you deal with an incident. That’s how you address the issue and show your players that you are their manager for a reason. The behaviour like that of Keane or Incognito will not be accepted or tolerated. Managers today need to ensure that they are good man managers and they are decisive and strong.  If you’re a good man manager than your already on the road to success. Bill Shankly said:

Football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better.

Good payers will look after the results. Of course they need a structure and formation to play within but their ability doesn’t really need to be improved it needs to be harnessed into a team effort. And to do that you need a team spirit. Bullying does not exist in a good team spirit. So results won’t come your way. Philbin of the Miami Dolphins let this bullying fester. He ignored it hoping that it would go away or that Martin wouldn’t say a thing. Maybe he thought of it as locker room banter. That’s not the sign of a strong manager. That’s not the sign of a manager who controls his “locker room”. If the manager doesn’t hold the reigns to his teams journey, god knows where it will end up and who will fall off along the way.

There is a massive emphasis in England and Ireland on technical coaching and the quality of coaching youngsters are getting. I completely agree that it’s nowhere near good enough. But like all coaches, one day you want the top job. Whether that is at your local club or to succeed David Moyes in January, everyone wants to be at the top. But being there is more than just knowing your drills. Being there is more than just getting your badges. Anyone can get a badge. Anyone can get a driving license but that doesn’t make you a good driver does it?

No matter what team you have or what level you manage at or how many drills you know, you will have to man manage players, their attitudes, and their expectations. You will have to be their leader. You will have to gain respect, show them respect and ensure the respect to each other is there. Bullying cannot be tolerated. A weak leader or manager will let it slip but a good one wont. A good manager won’t bring in players who bully or harass and if they do, they will get them out just as quick as they got them in. Whether it’s Premier League or NFL, bullying along with homophobia and racism, should not and cannot be tolerated.

As the great man once said:

It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.

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