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MANAGERS AT WAR

25-10-2006

Villa and the Baggies have both improved dramatically since their previous managers were sacked, even though their playing squads are virtually the same as they were before. Psychologist Dr Mike Drayton ponders how the change of one man at the top can make such a difference to an entire team.

Watching the performance of our local football teams this week I couldn't help but be struck by how much they, rather like dogs, seem to take on the characteristics of their masters.

Bryan Robson, former manager of West Bromwich Albion always struck me as being a dour man. Watching him at the Hawthorns he was never one for displays of excitement or any other emotion really. Robson's voice was a monotone. He seemed dull and averseto taking risks.

Under his leadership, Albion tended to play boring defensive football and were relegated from the Premiership last season. Robson recently left the Baggies and in thefirst match afterwards Albion won an exciting 4-2 victory against Leeds United. This was quickly followed by a 5-1 defeat of Ipswich Town, and a 2-0 win at Crystal palace. To top them all Albion secured a 3-0 victory over Woves in the local derby. Albion are now playing exciting attacking football.

Aston Villa, under David O'Leary were a flashy team with no substance, a description some would have applied to O'Leary himself. Now under their new manager Martin O'Neil they are 7th in the Premier league and are unbeaten and playing great football.

The players are more or less the same, so what do football managers bring to a team? Do they stamp their personalities on itto the extent that it disablesgood players and prevents themplaying well? What are are the characteristics that go to make up a good football manager?

Is football like selling cabbages or making computers? In other words are the qualities that go to make up a good manager at Marks and Spencers the same qualities that would make a good manager of a football team. I think not.

George Orwell once said that football is war minus the shooting, and I think the analogy is spot on. During the Albion Wolves match on Saturday the Baggies fans really hated the Wolves (“Stand p if you hate the Wolves”, went the chant andeveryone did). For those ninety minutes Wolverhampton Wanderers and their supporters represented all that was bad in the world.

Likewise for the Wolves fans, Albion were an object of hate. Football is not like the rest of ordinary, everyday life. It has passion, hatred and despair. Football is a war in microcosm, andthe goal isthe same - total defeat and annihilation of the other side. It's not an intellectual exercise it is pure emotion.

Therefore, football managers need similar qualities to leaders who emerge in war time. Winston Churchill would have probably made a good manager for the Albion. He had the passion to inspire people to win against all the odds. I suppose in football terms, England in 1940 would have been rather like West Bromwich Albion and Germany would have been a Chelsea or Manchester United. Yet we beat them, partly because of the type of leadership provided by Churchill.

Football managers mould teams in their own image. Is Tony Mowbray confident, charismatic and slightly aggressive? Is Bryan Robson cautious, defensive and risk averse? Is Aresene Wenger (whose team, Arsenal beat Albion last night) clinical and calculating, and a chess player.

I wonder, would we have defeated Germany in the Second World War if Bryan Robson or David O'Leary had been prime minister. Hmmm….

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