I take my daughter swimming, early on Sunday morning. We also go out for a coffee, and walk around the local lake…One day we were laughing, messing about. Someone came up to us and said ‘You find losing so funny, do you?’
In a book filled with poignant comments that was, for me, among the most shocking. There are a lot of fans who think that a manager’s job is an easy one – a belief that has been strengthened further by the popularity of games like Championship Manager – and, whilst I’ve never held such an illusion I also never really appreciated the complexities of the job.
I had never appreciated the stress of having all that expectation resting on you, the constant thinking about the minutest of details or the difficulty of trying to get young players to appreciate the opportunity they’re being given. And I certainly hadn’t thought of the possibility of having an afternoon with your children interrupted by an angry fan.
All that – and more - is laid bare in ‘Living on the Volcano’, Michael Calvin’s latest masterpiece of a book. The concept is fairly simple – interviews with various managers about how and why they do the job they do – but the execution is masterful.
Indeed, as he had done with his previous football themed book The Nowhere Man, Calvin has threaded together the various interviews intelligently, teasing out the stories of the compulsion that drives these men and the harsh realities they face without ever allowing these to become either frivolous or overbearing.
Surprisingly, the least revealing chapters are those where top flight managers – Mark Hughes, Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers – are involved. There is little which they haven’t revealed elsewhere although Rodgers’ admission that these past four years – which, professionally, have brought him huge success – have been hard on his personal life due to the death of his parents, divorce from his wife and his son being accused (and, eventually, exonerated) of rape. Again, those are the kind of managers’ personal emotions that fans either are not aware of or else willfully ignore.
Rodgers is a recurring theme in the book with practically every manager interviewed (again, bar the established ones) mentioning him as a role model and inspiration. They talk of him and his methods in a tone that approaches awe which is partly down to his achievements – he is, after all, the only British manager at a club with genuine top four expectations – but also due to his generosity in mentoring others.
Overall there is very little talk of tactics or playing styles and you get the impression that, whilst each manager has a clear idea of how they want their teams to play, pragmatism rules the day. All are aware that good football won’t keep you in a job; results will.
It means that ultimately the job of a football manager is like that of any other manager in an everyday job: it is essentially about recruiting the right people and then getting them to perform. With the fairly significant differences that corporate managers don’t expect to be sacked after a bad set of results or to be insulted in a park over how they have performed on the job.
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Full disclosure: a review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.