Google+ Blueprint for Football: Do Great Players Make Great Coaches?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Do Great Players Make Great Coaches?

Given the changes that the club is going through, the appointment of Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville as part of Manchester United's coaching staff provides a reassuring link between their successful past and a future which they hope will be just as positive.  Here are two players who have played significant roles in that success and, as such, will be able to help fill some of the vacuum left by Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.

They know what made United so successful in the past and they have the experience of what it takes to win year after year.  That knowledge bank is what David Moyes has secured by giving them those roles, just as much as he has their coaching abilities.  If there's a player who doesn't listen when someone who has won as much as Ryan Giggs gives him some advice then he shouldn't be playing for Manchester United.

That of giving such key roles to former players is a pretty established procedure at certain clubs, in particular where there is an especially strong desire to protect the club's DNA.  At Barcelona, for instance, a lot of the coaches have played for the club and former players have a monopoly on the coach's role of Barca B.  

Similarly, when Johann Cruyff briefly returned at Ajax one of the changes he insisted on was the appointment of some of the club's former greats in key coaching roles.  Although not all were his choices, this philosophy is reflected in the presence of Frank de Boer as first team manager, Denis Bergkamp as assistant manager, Jaap Stam as defensive trainer and Marc Overmars as technical director.

Given that both these clubs have been pretty successful in the recent past then it follows that the practice of appointing former players is a good one.  Yet it is not necessarily the case.

Because, whilst it is undeniable that their experience and knowledge of what it takes to win can be valuable, it can also lead to a lack of innovation.  Insularity in football can have a devastating effect, distorting one's ability to find new solutions to new situations by insisting on repeating what has worked in the past.  It is why there is a lot to be said for coaches who perhaps didn't have as great a playing career but who have instead slowly learned  how to carry out their jobs as coaches at different clubs and different situations.

Coaching - and managing - are extremely complex roles particularly at the highest level and it is always a huge risk when such a job goes to someone who hasn't proven himself elsewhere.    In the history of the game there are far more examples of great players who proved to be mediocre (or worse) at coaching then the opposite.

That, perhaps, is what Moyes is trying to avoid.  By appointing a some of his former coaching staff he is hedging his bets; if Giggs and Neville prove to be good enough then his move will be judged as a masterstroke, if not then they can slowly be eased out.

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