Being a member of the LMA Coaches Association PFCA I have been able to attend some great coaching clinics and, over the years, watched or listened to likes Alan Irvine, Rene Meulenstein and Tony Pulis.
These are excellent days that bring both experienced managers and coaches together, from both the Premier League and EFL, along with former players who are starting out on their coaching careers and seeking guidance on becoming the best they can be in coaching and managing players.
Sitting in the dugout during a game is second nature to me now after 1,600-plus games and having witnessed gaffers at work for all those ninety-plus minutes, I thought would share some insight on life in the confined space of the dugout.
With all the adrenaline flying around, that moment in the seconds before kick-off really is a feeling like no other. It is what we have built up to all week and however well or badly things have gone in our preparations, you know that pretty much anything can happen in the next 90 minutes.
That small area of about 25 metres is where the decisions of a manager are taken and can make or break a career, so you see people’s entire personality can change.
I don’t think any of us can enjoy it until the game is over. It is a stressful time for all of us but the energy needed for the role of manager got me thinking about the challenges presented to them at 3pm.
A manager obviously faces the pressure of a crowd – home and away fans. There is an enormous responsibility to deliver for your club’s supporters and sustaining their trust is really important.
The manager can play a crucial role, too, in the way the opposition fans behave. Especially in distracting or diverting their support.
The field of play needs reading – and managing. Threats of the opposition. Opportunities for routes to goal. Tiring players. Injury management. Positional adjustments. Formation changes, substitutions, and sending-offs. Game plan evolution. It is a constant workload.
The media are scrutinising and it’s important to consider the effect of the dugout on the club’s image, on its brand and reputation. There are many well-publicised and funny incidents about what happens on the touchline. One of my favourites, was when Big Ron accidentally ended up in the wrong dugout before his first home game in charge of Nottingham Forest in 1999. He must have wished he really was managing that Arsenal team.
Last but not least, there is a psychological war going on between the two dugouts that somehow inevitably gets reflected on the pitch.
Winning that battle plays its part in winning the game. It affects decisions, timings, mood, belief. Drain their bench and their team weakens.
The technical area is the domain of the manager, a place where he can plan his next move, relate to his staff, and communicate with the substitutions. Where the manager/coach squirms and shuffles is still subject of concern.
Many years ago now the sports branch at Southampton University, where Lawrie McMenemey once provided the footballing knowledge, did a study and made recommendations. Little has changed.
The proximity of the managers to each other is to close, leaving the poor fourth official sandwiched in between them and having to hear the rants of the coaches or 90-minute ear-bashing.
Why the fourth official engages in discussion is a mystery? How can he keep an eye on the game regularly distracted? Or entertained for when in 2016 the then Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal taking a dive to the touchline in trying to highlight that the referee was falling to punish the opposition for diving when he famously imitated it.
The simple solution is too obvious – widen the distance between the two technical areas and ban the manager/ coach from having any dialogue with the fourth official. Importantly with the managers out of earshot of each other, you would reduce the risk of any possible unruly confrontation.
What a manager does from this small place can influence the match outcome and I have experienced It on many occasions.
It has come along way since days of the 1920s when Aberdeen FC created a pitchside dugout (i.e. a trainer’s bench) – an early attempt to let the manager communicate directly with his players during the game.
But for decades in football, it was the case of the boss being seated in the stand and out of earshot.
Nowadays there is, of course, a desire and expectation to be able to work freely during the game. But with freedom comes responsibility – it is not a mandate to cause mayhem and managers who lose control face the consequences.
Fundamentally, football is a game for players but managers make a significant contribution to individual and team success – at the training ground, in the dressing room and more importantly from the dugout and the technical area.
By the final whistle, there are exhausted men and women leaving dugouts throughout the country.
The mental challenge and physical effect are tough. It takes a trojan effort to sustain a fresh zest for the next duel. The team behind any manager is hugely important. You need to understand how low they can get but also challenge their thinking, and not only perform specific tasks but also have a role to play creating the atmosphere around the team. It is also vital that the ‘team behind the team,’ is able to run smoothly in all conditions.
But for those young men and women asking for advice on how to cope with it, a passionate game loved by all. I still say there is nothing quite like it when you win.