The inception of the Premier League in May 1992 saw the dawn of a new era in English, and indeed world, football. From the vastly increased revenues of clubs, to global exposure of the sport, fan engagement, and media coverage, the revolution has had a monumental impact on nearly every aspect of the beautiful game.

With the formation of the League Managers Association coinciding with the launch of the Premier League 26 years ago, coach education and support for managers within the game is another area that has undergone a radical transformation during this period. As the collective, representative voice of all managers in English professional football, the LMA has grown to become an integral and highly respected part of the football industry.

The LMA’s leadership role on key issues in the game is epitomised by Chairman Howard Wilkinson. Still in the record books as the last English manager to win the English top-flight league title, his appointment as The FA’s technical director in 1997 involved a thorough review of coaching and youth development, resulting in the Charter for Quality and the launch of a project for a national football centre - which became the impressive St George’s Park complex. We sat down with Howard to discuss the importance of education, psychology and communication for a coach.

How important is it to recognise the specific needs of individual players?

There are people who think that every problem can be solved out on the training pitch, that tactics and teamwork are where we can solve all our problems. But my experience is, not just in football but in life, that’s not the case. People carry around with them a whole mix of feelings, thoughts, securities, insecurities – people learn differently. Some people can go out onto a football pitch and be a part of a tactical problem and pick it up easily, and some not so well, so you have to understand people because fundamentally, at the root of it, is a relationship between the manager and the player.

How important is good communication between a manager, the owners, and Chief Executive of a club in ensuring they all share a common view?

One of the biggest problems you will have as a manager is ensuring that you control all those factors which impinge on performance, and that isn’t just to do with what’s happening on the pitch and what is going on at the training ground. You have to make sure that the people in the boardroom understand the importance of this. In days gone by, a commercial manager may come in and say: ‘I’ve got a great deal with Audi down the road, we need a player appearance once a month on a Friday.’ We’ll say ‘sorry not Friday afternoon’ because the day before a game you aren’t doing anything other than getting yourself ready. So these creases need to be ironed out very, very early on in the process.

All elite managers face major challenges. What insight would you pass on about building resilience and handling setbacks?

Some people are naturally resilient, some are not, but the better ways of being resilient can be learnt. Ideally, when you say to yourself you want to be a manager, one of the questions you must ask yourself is: ‘Do I enjoy problems, and do I see them as an opportunity or something that I’d rather not have to deal with?’ It’s part of the job. If you want to be a surgeon, then you’re not going to be scared of blood and management is the same – if you want to be a manager, resilience is absolutely essential.

What has been your favourite moment in football?

I think people expect me to say winning the championship or winning the cup, but I always found in achievements of that nature that your emotion at the end is ‘I’m tired.’ The moments I remember are players like Gary Speed at Leeds. When I got there, he was a young apprentice, a very shy boy, but he had ability and qualities which would make him eventually one of the best players in the country.

How important is the partnership between the LMA and UCFB?

I would say our USP is looking after our members as well as we can, in whatever way we can and part of that is educating them and helping them get better and to grow. We ourselves have committed a lot of energy, a lot of thought and a lot of money into programmes that we run. Learning in a conventional sense, and education in a conventional sense, is part of that process. The more links we have with educational institutions like UCFB, the happier we are because what it says is people recognise what we do and why we do it, and that’s why they’re eager and I hope happy to become partners.

 

 

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