The recent announcement by Jürgen Klopp that he is leaving Liverpool at the end of the season has made me think again about the extraordinary and energy-sapping jobs managers and head coaches do.
A few months ago we had Emma Hayes saying she will leave Chelsea, also at the end of the season, not to have a break but to take over the USA women’s national team. That job will bring incredible pressure too but in a different way to club football.
They are similar in many ways, Klopp and Hayes, especially when it comes to their personalities. An important part of being a coach and a leader is drawing on your own personality to get the best out of others. With Klopp, even from the outside, you can see how he uses that energy when he is with his players, when you see his body language, and when you listen to the language he uses when he refers to the club,the city and his players. It is the same with Emma.
They both show you the energy you have to put in day-in and day-out to push not only yourself forward but others too. As a coach what you are looking for is to have that domino effect within the whole ecosystem. But when they give all that energy during the working day, I always wonder: ‘How much energy do you have left when you get home?’
There are only so many hours of the day you can be on this upward trajectory of energy, positivity and vibrancy and then you have to get home. For both of them, they have a family who also have demands and will want and expect that kind of vibrancy and presence when they are home.
Hayes has been at Chelsea since 2012 and I think that says a lot about her and what kind of a person she is, to have the character and ability to maintain that kind of momentum season after season. It is hard being a coach even when you are winning games and are at the top because you have to keep reinventing your team and your club when the teams around you are seeking to improve.
Then there is also the day-to-day experience of having to deal with disappointments. Not necessarily your own disappointment of losing matches but as a coach you have to carry the disappointments of others: players who don’t get a new contract or don’t get to play. These are day-to-day disappointments that people don’t always talk about.
By that I mean that most people acknowledge that it happens, but in the majority of workplaces you don’t have to disappoint other people on such a regular basis. Dealing with the emotional feedback from that is an unpleasant part of a manager’s role.
It is interesting that we have had a lot of talk about players’ mental health recently but not so much about coaches and managers and how they deal with the pressures of the job. There is the League Managers’ Association and there will be support from within the club. But that is for elite coaches and when you go down the pyramid I can only imagine how far and few between those resources are.
The pressure, though, is the most intense at the top and I feel as if we are entering a new era when it comes to the relationship between fans, managers and clubs, in women’s football and the WSL in particular. There have been banners saying “Skinner Out” at Manchester United games, aimed at the coach, Marc Skinner, with the team failing to stay as close to the top as last year.
I think there will be a number of people who will say, seeing this kind of thing coming into the women’s game: ‘This is what it is all about’, ‘This is the football I am used to’. I think there will be people out there who love it: the tribalism, the antagonism against managers perceived to be failing. Equally there will be those who think: ‘This has never been what women’s football is about and it is not something we want to see grow within the game’.
Maybe that is because they want the women’s game to be a more humble environment in terms of atmosphere. Interactions between opposition fans in the WSL tend to be those of a friendly rivalry, where you can still have that back-and-forth in the stands and on the pitch without it becoming obnoxious or intimidating. I think the “Skinner Out” banners are unfair because Manchester United have over-achieved, working their way up to the WSL and reaching a Cup final. They pushed Chelsea all the way in the title race and qualified for this season’s Champions League.
So what more do those fans want? All teams are going to go backwards at some point and it is a very competitive league. As a fan you are not always going to like the manager, it is impossible, but there are other ways to express your unhappiness.
And when we talk about mental health – whose mental health are we talking about? Everyone says it is important but if you consciously go to a game and put up a banner saying someone should be sacked, those people are clearly are not being reflective of how that might impact the individual they are targeting. Marc Skinner is also a person, with a family of his own, who will come to games and have to deal with that. There has got to be a better way.
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