At the recent inaugural European Managers & Coaches Forum - hosted by the League Managers Association (LMA) and Castrol, the official performance partner of the LMA - a group of some of the world's most high-profile football bosses gathered at England's St George's Park to discuss the important issues affecting the sport in the 21st Century.
The forum brought together the likes of Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, England manager Roy Hodgson, former Three Lions chief Fabio Capello, Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers and LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson to name just five from a list of attendees who have more than 15,000 matches of combined experience.
Over the course of two days, the gathering, supported by other guests, including Mike Riley, general manager of the Professional Game Match Official Ltd (PGMOL), was devoted to the sharing of insight and discussion for all factors which impact the modern football manager.
Here, Sky Sports gains a unique insight into the European Managers & Coaches Forum and begins a series of Q&A interviews with Sir Alex Ferguson, who is a long standing LMA board member, and Howard Wilkinson. Keep checking Sky Sports for the next in the series of Q&A interviews with different managers.
How important is it for senior managers to meet with younger managers and share their extensive experience?
Sir Alex Ferguson: As Howard will tell you, when we started the League Managers Association 20 years ago, it used to be the League Managers & Secretaries Association. The managers all got together and felt it was time we all had our own identity. In that time, I think there has been an enormous progress made by the LMA. Part of it, without question, is when you examine how long you last in a job. You have got to have a responsibility, and also you have got to help younger managers to understand the industry they are coming in to. This impacts on the way the coaching system works. There should be no fast-tracking, maybe, that was talked about. How can we help, in terms of giving a broader spectrum in to becoming a manager. What they are letting themselves in for. How to deal with directors. How to deal with the media. How to deal with contracts... Because, you know, the manager of England and English football is completely different from a coach in Europe. A coach in Europe is a coach and the rest is done by a general manager. So, there are differences and distinctions and I think that is important for all our managers. Howard has helped many managers, although he is not involved in the game as a manager. He is actually involved in helping developing managers and young managers. We all have to share that responsibility, too.
Howard Wilkinson: It is, as Alex has remarked, the fatality rate, with regard to first-time managers. It would not pass on a pheasant shoot! It is just unbelievable when you actually spell out the statistics. Which obviously, first and foremost, impacts on those would-be managers. It is not good for them. But nor is it good for the profession. It does not put the profession in a very good light. The fact that, without wishing to over-emphasise it, life is so cheap in terms of managerial life. So, I think that was very important and, some very, very positive input from some of the older managers with regard to the areas we need to look at, the areas that matter. Michael Laudrup also pointed out that he has managed in Europe and played in Europe and the manager's role here is totally different to anything else that exists in Europe and much wider. Hence the need for greater preparation, because you do run in to all sorts of different problems that the European coach does not.
What were your thoughts on the argument that certain technologies in football could damage the game?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, you have got to be careful with how far you go with technology, of course. I think that the basic progress we have to see is the goalline technology. That is a simple one-off situation and it was explained by Mike (Riley) that it can be done very quickly. But because we are a winter game, unfortunately, it means then that you do not want to have supporters sitting there, inactive in terms of their involvement watching the game, waiting for a decision, whether it is by an assistant or someone looking at a television screen. That has got to be 'puff' [claps hands] decision taken and move on. It could happen maybe three, four times in a game, you see? So, you do not want two minutes, three minutes each time the game is stopped. People could go to a game at 8pm on a Wednesday and maybe not get home until midnight! So, there has to be sensible proportions about the goalline technology but I think it is a starting point. The most important thing that I have always appreciated, and the way the game has always gone. Progress is progress, you cannot stop it. So, it is a progress.
Howard Wilkinson: The thing that struck me, very markedly, during the period that Mike (Riley) was with us, was, I have never been in an atmosphere with a referee like that. In the sense that, he was part of the group, he was there to advise the group. He was not there to answer questions of a controversial nature or whatever. He was there to advise the group. It was 15 blokes, chatting together with Mike, a specialist in one area and the others specialists in the other. It just struck me what a good idea it would be if there were more of these forums. It is one thing going in to a football club, which is one idea that is happening at the moment. But that is an extension of Saturday in some respects. Sometimes things happen for the best that you do not cater for. So, I was very, very taken by that and thought we need to look at this more.
How does the pressure to win trophies today compare to when you joined United?
Sir Alex Ferguson: I think it is the same. I think the only change being that it is more acute in terms of the way the media are operating nowadays and the way society has changed in terms of supporters' participation. But the pressure has always been on to you, particularly if you have got a club like Manchester United. The pressure is always on to win and to be successful. When I joined 26 years ago, we had not won the league for such a long time and when we eventually won it, there was a tremendous relief. Also, it secures your position. When you get success, you get control. Control is definitely the name of the game in modern-day football.
Howard Wilkinson: I do not think the actual pressure, if you could measure it, you would find any difference at all. I think what has changed is the disappointment felt by people about results and the need to get results. I do not think that number of people has changed significantly if you compared like-for-like. What has changed is the media in the sense that it can focus that disappointment much more quickly, with greater exposure in terms of getting those opinions out there. Blogs, Twitter, internet, the written media, television and the need to constantly fill 24 hours a day, seven days a week with something. For the most part, trying to get something new all the time, that is what has changed. Inside the football club, the manager walking inside the football club to face his players after he has lost on Saturday, that has not changed. How he feels, how they feel, how they respond, that has not changed at all. That is still intrinsically the same.
Which topic did you find of most interest at the forum?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well the one that impacts on our game and it is in general out there at the moment is the goalline technology. It is a big issue and a great debate for probably the last 12 years that the press have driven a great deal and it is a great topic to have. Of course progress, and I do not think you can beat progress, so that was another important issue. How did Mike Riley see the future of that? Was that going to happen or was it not going to happen? So that was interesting and, of course, the other thing that impacts is your players' behaviour in terms of simulation and dissent, because it is an important issue, because you have to be a model for young people. Young kids growing up, playing Under-7 football and Under-8 football, we have to have a responsibility in terms of the future of the game that way.
Howard Wilkinson: A very interesting point was brought up with regard to dissent and how we might deal with it more effectively. I was very, very surprised that went on far longer than we would have imagined. Then, the last one when we were talking about Financial Fair Play. I just made the remark that, I think the questions lasted for 45/50 minutes. Ten or 20 years ago, would managers have been sitting there discussing something like that, for as long as that? Again, it just marks the vast changes that have taken place in management.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Howard Wilkinson were talking at the Castrol/LMA European Managers & Head Coaches Forum 2013