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I was listening to a fascinating debate on the radio driving into work this morning that centred on Manchester United players going from zeros to heroes in a matter of weeks under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Solskjaer told the press this week that he has had minimal input in terms of management style, philosophy and implementing tactical plans in the short space of time he has been at Old Trafford. It seems the departure of old grumpy pants and the arrival of a smiley face has been enough to transform the players’ attitude and effort – with instant results (four wins from four: 5-1, 3-1, 4-1 and 2-0).
Citing the importance of psychology and mindset, Solskjaer said football is ‘played 99% in the brain’.
But what was interesting was not so much the glaringly obvious point that building and maintaining a positive relationship with your players is critical to success, it was the opposing arguments of radio hosts Dean Saunders and Max Rushden around the players’ overnight renaissance that really got me thinking.
Saunders’ point: That players play more for the club than they do the manager and so there can never be any excuse for them not giving 100 per cent in every game. Players should not need the manager to tell them to run through brick walls for the team. They should, said Saunders, ‘treat every game as if it was their last’, regardless of how they feel about their boss.
Rushden’s point: Saunders is living in the past. The modern-day pampered stars are different. Whether you like it or loathe it, you have to accept it. More than ever, it is an arm round the shoulder rather than a kick up the backside that will get players on side and put a spring in their step. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola understand this. Jose Mourinho’s career has faltered because he hasn’t moved with the times.
Both are right I reckon. And so is Solskjaer: a large percentage of performance is mental. But I am still taken aback at how a lift in the mood off the pitch one day can have such a dramatic impact on the pitch the next day.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Some interesting thoughts here, is definitely a new/old school dynamic in professional sport, with the "softer" approach winning. Something similar happening in rugby with the reaction to comments from Steve Diamond.
Agree it's amazing how quickly a team can change though - same players, just with their heads in a different place.
Not disputing the general thrust of discussion, but in this particular case there are 2 other factors that are likely to have affected results heavily:
1. Weaker opponents. Look at the teams that ManU have beaten under Solskjaer compared to Mourinho's last few matches. This was one of the driving factors for the timing of Mourinho's sacking - results were likely to improve somewhat anyway, which would have made him harder to sack if they’d waited.
2. Regression to the mean. Random fluctuations affecting performance adversely will make a sacking more likely. After the sacking the random fluctuations will be around the mean I.e. on average affecting results more positively than before the sacking.
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