Managers or sometimes as they are called, Head Coaches, are extremely important in football and always has been, for they directly play a part in not only the success of the team, but also other non footballing aspects too, like the recruitment policy, the soft image of the club, the foundation for the style of play etc etc..
Right from the days of Chapman to Prozzo to Herrera to Guttaman to Zagallo to Michaels to Shankly to Bilardo to Cruyff to Sacchi to Biesla to LVG to Sir Alex to the modern day Pep, Zidane, Jose and others, football always have seen various styles and methods with varying legacies. We have seen Managers in recent times who were no less than institutions and represented the Club in all facets such as Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger. But with modern football becoming unthinkably competitive and complex with lots and lots of aspects and activities getting added on day by day, perhaps we shall not see such levels of involvement in future. Modern football managers tend to focus mainly on football and give their inputs on other fields like recruitment, youth developments etc and there are other people who take care of those aspects which is why a Director of Football is so important today.
Now let us come to the topic, which one is more important, having tactical nous or man management. Successful managers tend to have both in varying degrees, it’s a combination of both which leads a manager to the top. So in real world, one doesn’t needs to choose between the two, but since we are humans, so managers will either have one quality stronger than the other and ultimately debate will arise regarding supremacy of any one between the two.
During initial years right from the start of last century, football managers were mainly amateurs since the game was amateurish in nature. Hence whenever a manager was having enough tactical nous, he always had the upper hand. The first real tactician we see was Chapman who tried the W-M formation at Arsenal to nullify the then popular 2-3-5 and took the footballing world by storm.
We then see through out the decades that various tacticians tend to come forward and took the reigns of the world by winning everything. The reason simply was that football managers were mostly man managers and they normally set up their teams with best players available to them without giving much thought to structure and tactics. Hence great tacticians like Prozzo, Herrera, Sebes, Michaels etc were such dominant names of their times. In fact Mario Zaggalo, who himself was more of a man manager than tactician, tried to incorporate his 4-5 playmakers in the single side and bumped upon the famous 4-2-2-2 or the box system and won 1970 WC in style. This trend continues and Seria A and La Liga were at the top of tactical revolutions thanks to a plethora of high profile tacticians and EPL was at the bottom of the pecking order. Hence we see even
as late as in 2004,that Jose Mourinho comes and plays a three men midfield in a league where everyone else played flat four and swept everyone away. The strange thing was that a league which supposedly boasts regarding its quality was swept aside by a formation which has being followed everywhere else in Europe for at least two decades earlier.
So all such instances show that until now, tacticians always had upper hand against man managers. So having tactical acumen must be superior, isn’t it? But there is a catch, we also find examples of managers like Shankly and Sir Alex, who were superb man managers and also won everything there is to win and are in contention among the greatest of all times. On the other hand, we see Marcelo Biesla who is widely considered among the greatest tacticians of all time and having inspired generations of managers, but didn’t win anything significant due to his eccentricity of lack of man management. Then why such opposite examples if tactical acumen is always superior?
The reason is, one can have all the tactical knowledge, but if he can’t convince his team or motivate them or bind them in team spirit, they won’t carry out the tasks on field. They are humans, not machines,and they need convincing, motivation, assurance, hope and self belief since it is them who will play, not the manager.It’s not surprising that Rafael Benitez, who is a great tactician having won la liga with Valencia and UCL with Liverpool, have had several cases of player mutiny and is disliked by many due to his cold treatment of players. Same is the case for Biesla. On the other hand, Sir Alex might not have been as tactically astute as some other greats, he simply overcame that deficit by having fantastic assistants who had all the tactical acumen, but Sir Alex ensured that his players were motivated enough and followed the tactical instructions to the tee. He continuously adjusted with times and trends and he rightly said once, “I am an absolute dinosaur, but I am a winner”. He truly was one. It is interesting to note that his assistant manager Queiroz, who is widely considered as the tactical brain of Sir Alex,tried to have his separate independent career at Madrid, and despite his tactical intelligence and understanding, failed miserably, whilst Sir Alex kept on winning.
In today’s football, tactical revolution has reached it’s Zenith with even the smallest of teams understanding the concept of high press, zones, half spaces, compactness etc and various tactical drills. The economics and science of football has changed completely and football managers today have an individual team of five to six comprising of assistant managers, analysts, statisticians, psychologists etc. So when almost every team is more or less tactically disciplined, more often than not, it will be the team with better players, who will be victorious. Hence we see and shall continue witnessing shock results continuously decreasing with time. But the team with superior players needs to be properly motivated, guided and should have clear ideas. That’s why man management is of paramount importance today, since tactical drills and patterns shall be worked out by the assistants and the statisticians using variety of softwares, data analysers, video analysis etc.. But if the manager can’t implement the ideas, can’t keep his team motivated or can’t keep the team spirit going, none of these will matter. Perhaps it is best said by Carlo Ancelotti, one of the finest examples of a manager having a balanced combination of tactics and man management, that “between culture and football, culture eats football for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Perhaps in future, when the entire tactical part of football will be taken care by softwares, where an AI notices changes in pattern and position during the game instantaneously and relay the required changes to be done in their own side to the ear receiver of the on field players, what that will remain of managers will only be man management, since rest will be taken care by automation and softwares.