At a time when the average tenure of a football manager is getting shorter than ever, Michael Calvin provides an absorbing insight into the mind of the modern-day football manager.
Calvin gets into the psyche of managers who are currently at the top of their profession but also those who are struggling at the bottom or who are now out of work.
The author interviews 20 managers at different levels and in different phases of their careers and provides a deep understanding of the men the fans love to criticise.
Calvin says ‘Football managers are categorised by the profundity of their pronouncements. They endure character assassination, casual dismissal and crass judgements.’
Arsene Wenger likens the job to ‘living on the volcano: any day may be your last.’
Calvin provides a sympathetic view of well-known managers such as Brendan Rogers, Roberto Martinez, Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes.
He also interviews some of the rising stars in football management like Sean Dyche, Garry Monk, Shaun Derry, Gareth Ainsworth, Karl Robinson and Eddie Howe.
What is striking is that most of the managers have had to face significant hardships and personal demons to become successful managers.
Alan Pardew’s formative years were on the building sites of London in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. He combined playing non-league football with early starts as a glazier.
He would start work at 7am while others were having breakfast. He’d finish at 3pm and after work he’d make the long drive to Yeovil and train or play a game. Then drive all the way back to London and get back about 1.30 or 2am, get up and start work again at 7am.
Partly because of his background he is keenly aware that many modern footballers are too distant from normal life.
‘Acknowledgement of the normal world just bypasses them, as it does rock stars and people who earn vast amounts of money. They become immune to the realities of what work actually is.’
However he says, ‘there is a balance to be struck, because expectation gets the average footballer all tense. He takes on too much.‘
‘I think if a player knew what it meant to one of our hardened fans I don’t think he’d be able to play. Without being slightly detached, could he play, knowing how the club is embroidered in people’s lives?’
Brian McDermott was told by his school teachers that wasn’t going to amount very much. They never encouraged him. It was always “You have to be careful, you have to watch yourself, it might not work for you”. It was, “You won’t, you can’t, you ain’t,” words he tries not to use any more.
McDermott believes that ‘there are a lot of depressed people in football, but they probably don’t even know it because they are conditioned by the game.
They are expected to overcome brutal things they regard as normal practice. People like to tell them they’re not going to get a new contract, they’re not in the team, they’re thirty-five and they can’t play any more. Where do you go from there?’
The pressure of football management can put a tremendous strain on family life. Karl Robinson is regarded as an up and coming manager but he has made many mistakes during his time as a manager and parent.
He now sees a ‘behaviour strategist’ who helps him to overcome the restrictions of fears, phobias and common psychosomatic conditions to release talent, skill and confidence.’
The consultant has been able to counsel Robinson on the harshness of his language and the complexity of his fundamental professional relationship with his players.
Robinson now understands the benefits of positivity. ‘If you get told “no” every day in your life as a kid it becomes an automatic cog in your head. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.”
As a parent he’s become aware of negative words. He tells his daughter she is perfect, she is clever, she can do it. She can be, what she wants to be. He wants to be someone she is proud of as she grows up.’
Martin Ling’s harrowing tale opens and closes the book. The former Leyton Orient, Cambridge United and Torquay United manager suffered a breakdown due to the pressures of management and had to be treated with Electroconvulsive therapy to combat his depression.
Ling has survived the experience but all the case studies show how difficult it is to retain your health, sanity and respect in the heightened world of football management.
Alan Irvine rightly talks of a ‘Culture of Impatience’ which holds the game back. Managers need to be given the time to create. The average lifespan of a Football League manager is now only 17 months.
Hopefully Calvin’s book will encourage a deeper understanding of the pressures of managing a modern football club and go some way towards addressing the short-term view of chairmen, fans and the media that is so damaging.
Living on the Volcano – The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin is published by Century.