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Evolution of the beautiful game: Extinction of the one-club man and the new breed of managers

Evolving is the only way of truly growing up & going forward, and that holds true even in the beautiful game. David Holmes documents the extinction of the loyal men of football and the new breed of tactical gaffers in the modern game.

Lampard Cruyff

Part I: Extinction of the one-club man

We are witnessing changing times and attitudes, and some would say, a sad time in football; the extinction of the One-Club Man. Long gone are the days of Bobby Moore who would stand by his club whether trophies filled his shelf or not. Gone are the days of Steven Gerrard and Francesco Totti who have stood by their club through thick and thin despite the numerous offers of greater fame, fortune and money that presented themselves. This is a sad time for football fans as no one can become too attached to any player, as they are about as likely to stay with the club, as a favorite character on Game of Thrones is to survive to the next season.

It used to be that players stuck by their club and strove to become a legend; someone who the fans would sing songs about until they died and long after that point. I go back to Bobby Moore because he is the prime example of what it meant to be loyal to a club. He was one of the best centre backs (if not the best) in the world, a World Cup winner; anyone would have taken him if he’d wanted to leave. But Sir Bobby did not. He won no titles, no FA Cups, no European Cups, but that didn’t matter. He was serving his club to his fullest and now he is a legend at Upton Park and will remain so for as long as that club and its fans exist.

This kind of player was very common during Moore’s time, but has become a scarcity in the modern game. Very few top players have only ever stayed in one club. It has become acceptable now to watch players like Robin Van Persie leave the club that supported them for years and years through injury upon injury, just so that he can go off and get a Premier League medal elsewhere. In juxtaposition, it is considered to be incredible loyalty when players like Gerrard refuse offers from Chelsea and Real Madrid in order to stay at their boyhood club.

In today’s game, both players and clubs have removed loyalty from the equation and added the bottom line, money. Just this year we saw Chelsea let go one of the greatest players in its history, Frank Lampard. The Englishman often stated his desire to stay at the club and retire with the Blues, but Chelsea could not meet him in that endeavor. Now we see the unimaginable sight of Frank Lampard in the blue of Manchester City scoring against his old club!

It is hard growing up in a time when even players like Frank Lampard are now considered surplus to requirement. It is hard listening to people around you get used to the idea of selling home-grown players when they feel they can make a profit off of them.

Fans across all teams understand the pain of watching a player, who up until that point had devoted their whole career to that club, just walk out or, in some cases, be pushed out. Manchester United can understand this more so than others right now as the sale of Danny Welbeck is fresh in their minds.

Welbeck, albeit not the brightest star when he was sold, was a young lad, born and raised in Manchester, who had come up through the academy to play for his boyhood club. He showed great potential early on and won the support of nearly all Manchester United fans, but when push came to shove, the club decided that there was no room for the young striker. Manchester United legends such as Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, both one-club men, were distraught to see the boy leave. Both felt this was an example of what is wrong with football. When you have a player who can play at a top level club in the league, is pushed aside because the club just sees them as a surplus when they have enough funds to attract a Falcao.

There are two sides to this mass extinction and as a fan you can only watch and hope that from time to time a player may arise that will remain at your club solely because they have as much faith and love invested in it as you do. Unfortunately, many times we are disappointed and must watch a player leave despite the great times they have shared with the club. It has almost become an expectation that players will leave as they get older.

As a Liverpool fan, I watch Raheem Sterling and marvel at the skill and talent that the young lad brings to the side, but at the same time I get a nagging feeling that his years with the club are numbered. I can see him progressing and each year getting better and better until Real Madrid decide they want him and put up the cash that tempts Liverpool into a sale, and two part ways.

Obviously I hope and pray that this magician on the ball doesn’t leave and that we go on to do incredibly well for years with him as a talisman for the squad, but given the times that we live in, the thought always lingers in the back of my mind.

The extinction of the One-Club Man is a sad evolution of the business of football and one that no one had hoped would come. Perhaps at some point it will turn around, but from the look of things, it’s only a matter of time before one leaves to some other team.

To quote another sportsman, the Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson, when he was offered a fortune to fight professionally, “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans.” Clubs and players alike should remember that it’s the love of the fans that is the greatest prize of all. The prize that they will be truly remembered for, and cherished for generations to come.

Part II: New breed of managers

We are at point in time, in which we can see the emergence of a new kind of manager. One that over time has strayed away from the style of management implemented by such greats as Bobby Robson, Bill Shankly, and Matt Busby.  The slow transition to this new breed a managers has added a far greater tactical awareness to the game and has raised the standard of play around Europe.

If we rewind back to the days of some of the great gaffers of the sport, we see that they’re managerial style is very different than the one we see today. Managers of the mold of Shankly and Busby relied on the natural talent of their players and their own incredible man-management skills. You would not find many of these men planning out tactics that may vary game to game. These men motivated their players and raised their self-confidence, thus allowing them to compete against teams that perhaps they wouldn’t normally have beaten. Shankly and Busby are excellent examples of managers who instilled a belief that every player should want to play for their club and that there was no team in the world that could compete with them. This belief was passed into the players and with this boost on top of the already incredible natural talent of players like Bobby Charlton and Ron Yates guaranteed that teams would experience an onslaught of intense passion.

This does not mean that these men did not organize their teams tactically in order to try and gain an advantage, but they did not out-think their opponents to the same extent that we see in today’s managers.

The transition from the motivational manager to the modern day manager was not an instantaneous one, obviously. There has been a long period of growth and it has taken a great deal of time to arrive at the tactical geniuses that currently stride up and down the pitch-side.

There are obvious transitional managers such as Kenny Dalglish who took a small step forward from the style implemented by his predecessors. We also have transitional managers that were ahead of their time and have been inspirations for the tactical awareness shown today. None more so than Johann Cruyff. His tactical awareness was years ahead of his competitors. A perfect example of this is when Barcelona found themselves against Manchester United in the Champions League Semifinal in 1994. In the first leg the games ended with a 1-1 draw and when the second leg ended 4-0 to Barcelona it became evident that one manager had learned from the first match and the other manager had not. That other manager was none other than Sir Alex Ferguson. However, it did not take Fergie long to learn from this mistake and this is why he is the ideal embodiment of the transition to the modern day manager.

Managers such as Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger began their careers when the style of managing was still working towards in depth tactical analysis. These two managers specifically adapted their approach as the times changed and maintained success throughout their tenures. If you examine the period of Alex Ferguson’s regime you can see that there is a distinct change in his tactical approach to games. When he began, he had the same motivational manager characteristics, but with more tactical awareness, and as you move forward in his time with Manchester United you can see that he begins to analyze teams more and begins to plan in advance and learn from the methods used by opposing teams. Alex Ferguson, although very adaptive never implemented the same style of management that is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s game.

The modern manager looks at every opponent and sets up the team differently for each game depending on the weakness that must be exploited. It does not matter if it is the Champions League Semifinals or the second round of the FA Cup, these managers change their tactics every game. This style was brought to prominence by Pep Guardiola, who learned from Johan Cruyff, and Jose Mourinho, arguably are the best managers in the game today. This was then picked up by such managers as Carlo Ancelloti who also adapted to this change and now embodies it whole-heartedly.

What is incredible about this change is that many upcoming managers utilizing this style to great success. Brendan Rodgers, Manuel Pellegrini, Jürgen Klopp, and Diego Simeone. We have even seen teams such as Southampton, Tottenham, and Zenit St. Petersburg employed under this method by Mauricio Pochettino and Andre Villas-Boas. This is becoming the norm. These managers must play out every pass, every move, every shot, every save, before the game is even played. There must not be anything that happens in the game that surprises them.

This manager is becoming more and more prevalent as time goes on and the approach is slowly being perfected and improved. We are going to continue down this path of improvement and soon we will see a managerial style that will change the game and the players alike. What a great time to be alive.

Written by David Holmes

David Holmes

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