OK, today we’re going to do some fantasy role-play.
No, not that kind. Plenty of other sites you can visit for that sort of thing (allegedly).
This site may be strict, but it’s strictly Norwich City.
Today we’re in the psychoanalyst’s office. The psychoanalyst (me) is interviewing a slightly reluctant patient; we’ll call him AN. My job is to ask put some questions to him and produce a summary assessment of his state of mind.
[To be clear, this is an entirely imagined scene; to my knowledge, no such conversations or statements have actually happened.]
“Thank you for coming, AN. First, how would describe your feelings towards the players you’re managing?”
“Mostly, frustrated. I know what it takes to win in this league, and I tell them every week what to do. Sometimes they do it – like in the recent game against Derby – but often they cross that white line and do something different.
At the start of the season, after getting relegated, it might be understandable if they were short of belief. But we started well and they should have kicked on. They’re good enough to get it right”
“And how do you feel towards the Board of Directors at Norwich?”
“Mostly, frustrated. I got on well with David McNally, but even he couldn’t deliver some of the key players we needed in the Premier League. The Board supported me with a new contract, making sure they’d get proper compensation if I left for another club. It might be helpful if they explained and defended that – and of course the other side, that they’d have to pay they fired me. It’s normal.
Both financially and for team spirit, this club desperately needs to move on one or two players. I know they tried in the summer, but I’d like to see some real action this time round”
“What are your feelings towards the fans?”
“Mostly, frustrated. A defender loses his man at a corner and it’s my fault. The keeper drops a ball and it’s my fault. Someone leaves the pitch instead of going down for treatment and it’s my fault.
They’re great fans and I share their frustration. But it’s not just me who’s made mistakes.
Speaking of that, it seems I can’t win. If I don’t admit to making mistakes, I’m in denial; if I do admit to them, I’m obviously incompetent.
Some have even said I was lucky when I came here two years ago. I can tell you: when I arrived, that team didn’t have the mentality to get promoted. The stats speak for themselves”
So, what do we make of that interview?
It strikes me as a classic example of a determined personality whose judgement is being affected by stress.
Before the interview I’d read a suggestion that he might be complacent with the backing of his new contract. However, his demeanour and responses reveal the opposite: a man of ability whose problem is being too wound up in his job, lacking ability to step back and take perspective.
He will not quit the job, despite the repeated underachievement of those under his command. Money, I’d suggest, is only a minor factor in that disposition. A fierce, and currently somewhat misdirected, pride is the main driver of his actions.
In layman’s terms, he needs to lighten up. A degree of impatience is characteristic of outstanding leaders; however, no manager will succeed if frustration is his dominant emotion.
Nor is it helpful that he seems prepared to drive a wedge between himself and his players. The most successful managers do criticize their people, often fiercely – but in private. In public they tend to cultivate the opposite: a mentality of “we’re in this together”, sometimes reinforced by a myth that “the world’s against us”.
AN is a young man in his field. I understand a more experienced coach and manager was appointed to his team in the summer; this seems a wise move in principle, but AN does not appear to have benefitted from it. Perhaps it was the wrong person.
I can see this situation developing in one of two ways.
First, the erratic performances will continue and his position will become untenable. He has few weapons to resist that trend, if it happens.
Second, a run of favourable results may lighten his stress and enable him to re-engage with his players. In that case, the abilities he showed when he first joined the club may reassert themselves and drive the team to success.
The Board is not powerless here. It could have ‘bitten the bullet’ and dismissed AN; for various reasons it has not taken that course. Having retained him, it could now act to make the second outcome more likely than the first.
As a high priority, the Board could show its support for AN by making every effort to remove one or two individual players from the club. That may help to finance the purchase of others, but it is perhaps not the most important reason for the action. AN will feel more empowered, and thereby more comfortable, if they are gone.
Above all, successful managers must feel and exude comfort in what they’re doing. Think Claudio Ranieri or Juergen Klopp. If the Board is to retain AN, it is more important to increase his comfort than increase his insecurity.
Disclaimer: if it’s not already obvious, this piece is entirely fictional and has absolutely no basis in expertise, qualification or insight. Anyone’s view is as valid as mine; many probably more so. It’s purely for entertainment and – hopefully – stimulating debate. SL