The Loneliness of the Manager

Feb 10, 14 The Loneliness of the Manager

A lot of sport fans think that managers are paid a load of cash for pretty much looking after a bunch of overpaid prima donnas and that all they have to do is make sure the players don’t go out and drink too much and ensure they turn up for the game. Well, think again…

Let me use a very silly analogy that I think will ring a few bells, especially for those of you who are parents. Imagine the manager of a premiership team as a dad. With the help of mum (the club chairman), dad’s job is to keep the kids (the players) and their mates(agents, entourage) happy and safe and give them the best start in life so they can fulfil their dreams and expectations (a big contract, fame, promotion, the championship…you name it). But dad not only has responsibilities towards mum and the kids, dad works for a company (the club’s board of directors and investors) who pays him a salary and expects a return for it (titles, goals, a good show, high transfer fees) and who has a very loyal, yet fairly volatile, customer base (the fans). Now, we all know either first or second hand, that fulfilling your parental duties is no mean feat. Well, imagine it 100 times over and that’s what managers do. And to add insult to injury, they do it with the added pressure of having the media monitoring their every move 24/7, being always one match away from being sacked and playing with a family budget of millions of pounds. Very few professionals deal with this level of pressure, day in and day out.


"Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admits to being lonely after 12 years working abroad"

“Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admits to being lonely after 12 years working abroad” – Picture by


Oh, there’s one more thing about managers. They love the game. They live and breathe the sport and spend every single moment of the day thinking about it. They don’t clock in and out – yes, I know that if they get sacked they don’t have to go and join the dole queue, but that does not mean anything to them. Money does not matter to this obsessive-compulsive bunch.

Despite the fame and fortune, being a football manager (or for that matter, a high performance coach in any other sport) is one of the most challenging and stressful jobs out there. Job insecurity, lots of travelling, long working hours, being the front man of a multi-million pound business, constant public scrutiny, unhappy spouses…The list is endless and it all adds to one of the worst lifestyles you can choose. We all remember the case of Gerard Houllier’s heart surgery while he was at Liverpool. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Doctor Dorian Dugmore of the Wellness International Centre in Manchester has conducted a lot of research on football managers and found that over 40% of them had heart problems, some of them which required urgent attention. For instance, Dugmore found that managers’ heart rates during games rose to levels well beyond their maximum heart rates in stress tests on the treadmill. Crazy, right?


Premier League Managers such as Everton Manager Roberto Martinez spend many days away from their family

Premier League Managers such as Everton Manager Roberto Martinez spend many days away from their family – Picture by


At the International Council for Coaching Excellence, we are in the process of doing a very unique study entitled ‘Serial Winning Coaches’. For the first time ever, we have been able to access around 20 coaches from all over the world which have one thing in common: they have won multiple gold medals at Olympic and World Championship level over a long period of time. These coaches seem to have a knack for winning despite changing clubs, countries and sometimes even disciplines. We have one coach who has delivered at least a gold medal at every Olympics since 1976!! Anyway, the point is that from the preliminary analysis of the coaches we have interviewed so far, it seems like one of the things they all share, and we believe this is an important factor to survive at the top for 20-30 years, is that they all seem to have arrived at the conclusion that, as one of them put it, ‘you can’t look after the ship unless you look after number 1 first’. Balancing life and work becomes a top priority. For some of them this is achieved through the family (normally their second marriage, for coaching wrecked the first one!), a hobby, a big holiday, charity work, a business on the side, other sports or a combination of all of the above. Yes, they acknowledge that coaching is a lonely and stressful profession, but they have learnt to put things in perspective and build a more balanced lifestyle for themselves and those around them.


The problem is, they tell us, that sometimes the expectations of how a manager/coach should behave are culturally influenced by the sport or the country, and some managers feel the need to comply with this. Cast your mind back to the stick Sven got for being quiet and letting players get on with their business during England and Man City games. And how at City, everyone felt Stuart Pierce did a much better job because he was jumping up and down the touchline. Incidentally, Pierce himself has been quoted saying that he has learnt that all that monkey business does not help players most of the times.


Another issue we have uncovered from talking to coaches is this idea of the loneliness of the coach. Unless you are one of the very few coaches who reach ‘holy cow’ status like Sir Alex or Mourinho, the rest of the mortals in coaching have to constantly deal with the fact that people around them may want to take their job, that the press or the chairman may have an informer within their camp and that everyone expects them to act like some kind of Terminator and never open up or share their insecurity or fears. Coaches keep telling researchers that having someone non-judgemental to share things with or run ideas past is a real luxury. A sounding board, a mirror to look into and reflect on everyday practice. And we know that this process of sharing and introspection is not only beneficial for their mental health. It is a fundamental part of learning. Professions where lives or millions are at stake like the army, big corporations, surgeons and emergency services do it all the time. So why don’t coaches do it? Well I guess sometimes it is the pace of the job which seems to steal time away from the coach, but I bet that a lot of the time it comes down to coaches not having the skills and experience to do it or someone they can trust enough to be completely open with. Business Coaches or Performance Consultants all over the world work with business leaders, army generals and brain surgeons to make sure they are always at the top of their game, mentally fresh and drawing learning from past performances. So what are coaches waiting for?


As a matter of fact, a lot of them aren’t. Some of our most successful sports in London like Cycling and Sailing have perfected all of this to the point where they are being copied all over the world. Sir Clive Woodward brought all his experience from working at Xerox into the RFU and now into the BOA.


Liverpool Manager Bredan Rogers has lot`s of people within a club to keep happy such as the players and chairman - Picture by

Liverpool Manager Bredan Rogers has lot`s of people within a club to keep happy such as the players and chairman – Picture by


Let’s accept it: coaching and managing at the top is never going to be an easy ride. My good friend and occasional sounding board Dr Frank Dick OBE, former Head Coach of UK Athletics during the Seb Coe and Daley Thompson era, keeps telling me that a head coach today is more akin to the conductor of an orchestra rather than an inspired soloist. Most professional setups have back room staff teams in excess of 10-15 people. The knowledge and emotional intelligence demands on them are more than ever and seem to get bigger every day. It seems to me though, that a number of strategies can be put in place to firstly, minimise the toll it takes on the manager and secondly, support quick and efficient learning, leading to better performances in the future. Proper debriefs, mentoring from more experienced coaches (even from other sports!), performance counselling, lifestyle coaches, real time out from the pressures of the job, a pet…whatever rocks their boat!

Remember this: people under too much stress do not perform at their best, develop health problems very quickly, learn very slowly if at all, and are constantly afraid of making mistakes which kills creativity and innovation. Now, go and tell your boss all of that (and I mean the real boss, not the missus).

By Sergio Lara-Bercial – Leeds Metropolitan University and the International Council for Coaching Excellence

Sergio Lara-Bercial is a former professional basketball player and coach in both Spain and the UK. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in Sports Coaching at Leeds Metropolitan University and the International Council for Coaching Excellence. If you want to contact Sergio please write to

This article was written for Guillem Balague  ( who is a is a key fixture in Sky Sports’ coverage of Spanish football, appearing regularly both on live match coverage and on the weekly round-up show, Revista de La Liga. He is also the UK Correspondent for AS, the Madrid-based Spanish sports newspaper and El Larguero, Spain’s most popular sports radio show, attracting some 1,5 million listeners.

For full links to and Sergio Lara-Bercial article please (CLICK HERE)

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