Paul Simpson
Paul Simpson

Who would be a coach?

You do not have to have skin as thick as rhino hide to be a UEFA Champions League coach but, as Champions Matchday editor Paul Simpson explains, it probably helps.
Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012, 9.57CET

Who would be a coach?

You do not have to have skin as thick as rhino hide to be a UEFA Champions League coach but, as Champions Matchday editor Paul Simpson explains, it probably helps.

Arsène Wenger told me that he once feared coaching would kill him. "The pain of losing was too great," he said, recalling his early years.

The urbane French coach has been in charge in various dugouts for 28 years – managing Arsenal FC since 1996 – and, after 146 UEFA Champions League games as Gunners boss, has acquired a broader perspective that helps him cope with the vicissitudes of his trade. Yet he told me: "The pain [of defeat] only goes away when you play the next game."

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The highs and lows are a trial for Arsène Wenger

So when you watch your team on matchday three, spare a thought for the coach. Hailed as miracle workers if they win, deluded tinkerers if they lose, they have the weirdest job in football. Just put yourself on the bench. Your professional competence, facial expressions, even your taste in clothes, are being scrutinised by watching millions at the very point where your work is at its most stressful.

The impression you make is dependent on a squad of players whose form may be affected by a host of variables: dressing-room politics; the nagging suspicion they are no longer the player they used to be; a knock they're carrying; an irate partner at home; the unflattering verdict of a newspaper columnist; or a dose of 'man flu'. The complex interaction of these factors on 11 players and a dugout's worth of substitutes can make them collectively less effective, irrespective of whether their manager is a magician or a moron.

Just to make the coach's life even more complicated, the game has evolved in a way that ensures, in the 90 most critical minutes of their working day, all they can really do is stand, watch, relieve their stress with some touchline theatrics, or try – usually in vain – to influence proceedings with coded hand signals or shouted instructions.

At half-time, once the players have been handed their isotonic drinks, finished their banter and are ready to focus, all the coach can do is deliver a few key messages and hope his charges listen, learn and act accordingly. If they don't, the coach can't begin to rectify matters until the next training session – by which time the supporters, club presidents and pundits have delivered their (not necessarily informed) verdict.

Being a football coach is one of the world's most precarious professions. One goal, one substitution, one tactical experiment that goes awry can turn superhero into scapegoat. Operating in such a state of uncertainty, the one quality every trainer needs to succeed is self-belief. That's one trait José Mourinho, the cover star of the latest edition of Champions Matchday, has never lacked, and nor, in his way, has Wenger. As a young coach, he quickly learned to envisage, plan and savour the victory that could emerge from every defeat.


Last updated: 19/10/12 12.09CET
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