How Football Clubs Should Choose Their Manager
Do managers matter?
It seems to be a characteristic of modern football that whenever a club is going through a string of poor results (or below average in some cases) that clubs will inevitably change their coach. It seems that in the world of football it is taken as a fact that the coach is the major determinant of results. It is assumed that a short spell, usually no longer than a month or two, of poor results are caused by errors of the manager, rather than poor form, injuries or just plain bad luck. Yet we typically never question this assumption. We recall examples of coaching changes that brought about success and take it as evidence of coach’s impact while willfully ignoring the just as numerous example of managerial changes that didn’t work. We rarely take a step back to challenge these assumptions and ask ourselves a fundamental question. Do football managers really matter?
Factors to Success
The first factor one should look at when evaluating the quality of a club is to look at the quality of players. Judging players is a relatively simple matter because their entire performances are displayed on the pitch for the world to see. This transparency means it is clear to everyone how good , and in an open market this means that the better the player is, the higher his wages tend to be. So a club’s quality of players are strongly correlated with their wage bill.
A study of how the player’s wage bills impact performance was performed by Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Sports Management at the University of Michigan. It turns out that in the Serie A, the correlation between league position and player wages in a 14 year period is 93%. One can only wonder how high the correlation would have been had there not been match fixing going on during this period. Nevertheless the results are quite telling. This points to a very important truth that many fans, owners and pundits tend to forget. That league position is almost entirely dependent on how good your players are. As Johan Cruyff once said: “If your players are better than your opponents, 90% of the time you will win.” These results seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom which values the coaching related factors like formation, team talk and training methods as large contributing factors to results.
The Coach’s Impact
Is it simply the case that there is also a high correlation between player wages and good coaches so these results are also factoring in the quality of coaches as well? Turns out this was looked into and the results pointed out that for 90% of the cases the coach does not provide any statistically relevant benefit. Now it is very important to interpret these results correctly. This isn’t to say that any person could do the job as well as a professional coach. This is a study looks at professional coaches, which means all the people being evaluated were qualified enough to take and pass a coaching test, and they were in competition with clubs run by other professional coaches. But among those professional coaches it seemed that in 90% of the cases they did little to distinguish themselves in term of affecting their club’s outcome.
What about the top 10% of coaches? For the sake of our discussion we will refer to members of this group as “top” coaches. The analysis seems to indicate that these top coaches outperform expectations. So these individuals seem to provide a slight benefit over what the players’ wages alone would predict. This might leave some to assume that clubs should aim to sign a top coach, someone like Jose Mourinho. Yet things are not that straightforward, because while a top coach may outperform results, the question then becomes by how much. The study shows that these managers outperform expectation by a “statistically significant” margin. Yet such a margin might not be significant enough to change a club’s fortune, so the top spenders will remain at the top of the table and the low spenders at the bottom. This is critical in our analysis because a coach like like Mourinho will cost around 8m/season. Remember that the most important indicator of success is the player’s wages. So if a team is on a fixed budget then saving 7m in coach wages and placing them in a couple of solid players will likely statistically improve their chances to do better. So if a club is on a budget then they should avoid getting expensive coaches and invest that money on players instead. If on the other hand money is no object and the club has already purchased all the players they want and still have money left over, then they should get the best coach money could buy. In other words, a top manager are usually a luxury only the wealthiest clubs should think about.
How should a club select their coach?
So if evidence is saying that the choice of coach is largely irrelevant to the club’s success, one might be quick to assume that the process of picking a coach should be reduced to simply pulling a name from a hat. But there is more to the manager’s selection process than the use of a sorting hat. The results might be determined mainly by the players, but that doesn’t mean that the results are the only factor to consider when hiring a coach. So I present below four main factors that clubs should consider in their selection process.
1. Good Public Image
A coach today is not only responsible for training, team sheets and formations. He is the one taking the interviews before and after every match. He will be the one the press will go to for answers on just about every question regarding the club and its players. The club needs to select a coach that is a good reflection of the image the club wants to portray.
A coach today is the face of the club. So it is no surprise that modern coaches, much like modern day newscasters, are younger, better looking than their counterparts of days past. The image today plays a greater role than it did in the past as the media exposure has grown. Yet a good public does not depend simply on looks and fashion sense. How managers interact with the media is just as important. How well a coach handles press conferences will have a reflection on how the club as a whole is covered by the media. A controversial coach might take some media pressure of the players and the club if he is clever, but one who is too controversial might burden the club with unneeded pressure from the press.
At the end of the day the coach is also an advertisement for the club. So if the coach comes off as likeable then so does the club. However if the coach comes off as rude or belligerent, then it reflects poorly on the club as well.
2. Good Relation with the Players
It is important to have a coach the the players like and respect. Not because this necessarily improves their overall results, but because unrest in the locker-room ends in one of two ways, with either the player leaving or the coach leaving. For the club this can lead to two main problems. First it introduces an element of distraction, as locker room unrest is something nearly all media outlets will be jumping on. The second is the waste of funds and resources trying to replace a coach or players.
This doesn’t mean that a good coach is one who goes out of his way to please everyone.
There are inevitably a player unhappy with how much playing time he gets, or the position he has to play. But the quantity and severity of the locker room resentment is what clubs should be aware of. Having a single upset player is one thing, but if half the starting XI are at odds with the coach then the locker room has been lost. How good a coach is at handling conflicts, even a small number of them, can greatly reduce the distractions the club and players have to face.
How well the coach gets along with a team can also depend on the type of players the club has. A coach might do well with to manage a small club with young players, but might not fare as well in an ego filled locker room of a club with many superstars. So potential for certain character conflicts should be taken into account when picking the proper coach for the team.
3. On board with Management’s vision
Many times a manager’s tenure at a club is cut short due to a breakdown in the relationship between the manager and the club’s management. And this breakdown sometimes happens due to a miscommunication of expectations between the club and the manager. When a coach is brought in, he rarely interviews for the job at hand, he doesn’t lay out his long term plan and the club doesn’t lay out their vision. A manager is usually signed and then the club and manager try to figure out how to make the relationship work.
The breakdown of this sort of relationship occurs in several ways. One of the most common is that the coach get a transfer purse or wage budget much lower than he would like, or the club fails to procure the services of the players he asked for. But there could be some other sources of conflict between the two parties. A club might insist that the coach play in a certain style of football. So a club insisting on attacking football might sack a coach a coach who was getting results while playing his preferred defensive style. The club might also insist on playing a certain number of homegrown players, while certain coaches would rather sign talents they have worked with in the past.
For these reasons it is essential before signing on a new coach that the club officials and the coach have a lengthy meeting, in which each side clearly states their expectations. If the gap between the expectations of both parties appears too big then the club is probably better off looking for another coach who can work within their program.
After evaluating all the other criteria, if a club has several coaching candidates that pass those criteria then the club should choose the coach based on cost. This does not only mean the coach’s salary, but their projected plan. Two coaches might have plans that the club approves, yet one coach will be able to implement it with a smaller transfer fee, either by utilizing existing players or utilizing younger players. So in situations such as this, the coach with the lowest total cost (wages + project cost) should be signed.
These should be the main factors clubs take in evaluating a coach. They should disregard many misleading factors that sometimes creep into discussion about coaches.
The coach’s history and track record will always merit a significant amount of attention, but most of the time it is given more weight than it deserves. A coach’s track record should be adjusted according to how good his team were. So a coach who won a league title might be a great accomplishment, but doesn’t really tell you much about their coaching talent if they did it with the best team in the league. How well a coach overperforms expectations are what clubs should look at. And that too should occur over a period of multiple seasons in order to be considered consistent overachievement. Unfortunately such credentials are rarely seen. One off overachievers are rare, but consistent ones are much more so. But that is to be expected with so much of performance today is tied to the quality of the players.
The formation and style of play a coach brings in is only as important as how much the club values that system. If results are the only thing that matters then it makes no difference what the formation the coach will use. So if a coach prefers to play with wingers, or a single center forward, or a three man back line, it is their own preference.. There is no right and wrong answer when it comes to choosing a formation, otherwise all the clubs would have settled on a single formation by now. So in evaluating a coach, a club should not waste time scrutinizing their preferred system of play. The only other consideration a club should take with regards to formation is some will cost the club more to accomplish as it might require signing and selling players to get the correct mix that can play a certain formation.
Training methods might vary, but for a club in a top european league they are all good enough. Some might put more emphasis on the physical side of things, while others do tactical work. Some coaches spend most of the training with the ball, while other go without it for the most part. At the end of the day, this small nuances matter little in the overall scheme of things. The training methods, each in their own way, all do the same task of getting the players ready for top flight football, which is all that really matters.
It is important to mention several caveats about the analysis. First we must keep in mind that the analysis is based on league results and so the conclusion can only be used when discussing a club’s league performance. It could be that the coach has greater influence in a knockout type competition, like the national cup or European competitions. One of the reasons this could be the case is because in a competition like the Champions League, a team has a lot of time to prepare for their opposition. This allows the coach more time to study each opponent and develop a strategy to counter them. In a league format where clubs play every week there is little time to make adjustments for each and every match. This is not to say that coaches do indeed play a bigger role in a competition like the Champions League, just that the current evidence neither proves nor rejects this claim.
Another Caveat I have to mention is about the scope of the analysis. These finding are based on studies of clubs in the top leagues in Europe. So the conclusions should be restricted to that scope. The role of coaches in leagues around the world or for the national teams might be very different than what is considered here. I will give a few examples of why this could be the case. Professional players are employed by the club, so in a national team competition the motivations to get players to perform are very different than in the club level. That is why the coach’s strength as a motivator plays a more significant role in such a setting and can provide much more of an advantage. Also, a coach coming into one of the smaller league or national team could provide significant advantages due to the knowledge gap that might exist there. In the top European leagues the knowledge gap is pretty much non existent. If a technique is shown to be very effective the other clubs with quickly start implementing it and the competitive advantage with soon disappear. This is what happened to the MLB's Oakland Athletics advantage after GM Billy Beane started to implement sabermetrics. However in smaller league around the world these techniques might not be as well known. So bring a coach with extensive experience of training methods and tactics from a top league in Europe could provide a competitive advantage.
In order to avoid misunderstanding my intent of this analysis I would like to first stress what I am not trying to say here. I am not saying that coaches do not matter. I have a great deal of respect for the work coaches perform at clubs. And I most certainly not saying that anyone can come in off the street and take a job as a coach in a top European league and do well in it. The fact of the matter is all professional coaches have had extensive experience in the industry,
either as players who have worked under coaches for many years or as non-players who have worked as part of the coaching staffs for several years or as coaches from smaller division or club youth squads. Their backgrounds might be varied, but they all have experienced coaching in one manner or another for several years before becoming a professional manager of a club in top flight competition. It is this precise experience that allows them to be professional football managers.
Once a coach reaches the prerequisite level of experience and has the expertise required to manage a club, it becomes very difficult to distinguish himself from his peers in terms of empirical results. That is not to say that Mourinho and Ferguson are just like your average coaches, because they are clearly better than most coaches. The question, however, is how much better? How much better would these top coaches be expected to do if they were given the reigns of a mid-table squad. I am talking about taking the team as is, without a huge transfer fee to recruit any new players. On average, how much better would an average club (as average as you can be in a top league) do if handled by a top manager. Would you expect an increase of a couple of points? Would they be challenging for a title stop? Would there be any difference at all? What about if a top coach was given the worse (in terms of player wages) team in the league. Would he be able to avoid relegation? In there lies the fundamental question, how much better can a coach really do? Judging by the evidence, not much. A top coach might more consistently be in the upper bound of the club’s expected position, but he cannot be expected to perform miracles. So he cannot make a team with mid-table wages a title contender, or save the team with the worse player wages from relegation. Give a top coach a mediocre team, and he will appear mediocre as well.
It is this realization of the limits of the coach’s ability that needs to become widespread in the footballing world’s consciousness. From fans, to critics, to club presidents. This has important ramifications on how clubs go about their business. For when a club signs any reputable coach it is a huge investment. Not just in the manager’s wages, but in the project they plan to implement. A highly rated coach will demand a big transfer budget to sign his players to play his style so he can implement his project. And this is where my my largest criticism of the current coaching misconceptions lies. Because it should never be the coach’s project, it should be the club’s. The club’s president, directors and general managers should come together and put a plan in place for the club. Such a plan is dependent on a number of factors that coach’s are rarely asked to consider, such as the club’s traditions or financial health. Once the plan is in place a coach is brought in to implement it. This is where the aforementioned factors come in, to aid the club in choosing the right coach for the job.
If the club’s plan is to challenge for the title, then the way to go about it is no secret. All they have to do is look at how much the top club in the league is spending on player wages and then spend that much or a bit more. That might not guarantee a title straight away, but that level of spending will surely make you a title contender, which should earn the club a title in a few years time. This is why it seems so bizarre when a club like Chelsea spend over €100 million in compensation for managers over the last 9 seasons. Such actions stem from the same logical fallacy that drives craps players to change their dice after a string of bad rolls. That is not to say that coaches are as interchangeable as a pair of dice, but many times the coaches are blamed for a string of results that could very well attributed to dumb luck. Given enough time the coach’s results will almost inevitably average out to the expected performance, much like the dice will, but it seems neither are given that chance.
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As an example, let us take a look at Inter’s coach Andrea Stramaccioni to look if how well he fits into the club to describe a better.
1- Good Public Image: Strama does an excellent job in presenting himself. He is very straightforward and honest and comes across as very likeable in Interviews.
2- Good Relation with the Players: The players seem to respect him and are willing to follow his instructions. He does well with squad rotation and keeping the players happy. Even Gianpallo Pazzini, a player he offloaded had nothing negative to say about the coach, in fact he greatly appreciated the coach’s honesty towards him. He doesn’t throw underperforming players under the bus in interviews, but defends them as part of his team.
3- Good Relation with Management: Not many managers would be happy with having to put up with cost cutting. But Strama appears to be on board with the club’s plan and is very willing to work within the club’s new plans.
4- Cost: I don’t think we can find a better deal financially for a coach than Stramaccioni.
So it would seem that a coach like Stramaccioni is a great fit for a club like Inter So despite criticism of results or experience, it is pretty clear that Strama is a great match for the club. Not many coaches will be interested in picking up a cost cutting project, especially knowing that they would quickly be blamed for any fall in form that will likely happen when the squad slashes wages. To have a coach who is not only on board but enthusiastic about such a project is a rarity.
So any complaints about Strama are a criticism of style rather than substance.
Somebody stop me!
youre beating around the bush too much man. I got one word: results. simple as.
I got a word too.. Scarves :ninuked:
Data shows results depend on players not on coaches. Luck (injuries, ref mistakes) is a bigger contributor to results than the choice of coaches.
Originally Posted by ninuk