Five key trends in coaching and management
Written by Simon Austin — September 28, 2022
DURING five years of TGG - and hundreds of articles, dozens of podcasts and numerous events and webinars - we have seen five key trends in coaching and management:
1. HYBRID ROLES
In 2019, Vern Gambetta, the great American strength and conditioning coach, told TGG: “People ask me, 'What’s your specialism?' To which I answer, 'I’m a specialist in being a generalist.'"
This was more than just a good line, because this is a trend we've seen as well, with football's disciplines becoming intertwined.
It probably started with the fusion of sport science and coaching, with someone like Rui Faria, who will be the guest on the next episode of our podcast. Faria qualified as a sport scientist but went on to gain his Uefa Pro Licence and became the key on-pitch coach for Jose Mourinho.
Faria was an advocate of tactical periodisation and, for him, the physical, mental, tactical and technical elements of the game were inseparable. This meant his training sessions needed to mirror the demands of the game, with each of the four corners incorporated. To do this required an understanding and appreciation of each.
In recent years, video analysis and data have been added into the mix as well.
Analysts now appear on the training pitch and on the bench on matchday. Nottingham Forest Head of Analysis Steve Rands told us: “That merge between the two roles (coaching and analysis) is starting to happen.
"It is now more common to see an analyst sat on the bench, giving instruction directly to the player instead of having to go through a coach. There is that pattern now, where each is crossing into the other’s domain, and it’s working.”
As a result, more and more analysts are becoming assistant managers. Examples are Adam Sadler (Leicester City), Joao Sacramento (formerly Tottenham and Roma), Joe Carnall (ex-Millwall), Mark Leyland (Newcastle coach/ analyst) and Danny Rohl (Germany).
And managers are, in part at least, analysts as well. Pep Guardiola (pictured above on the train from Manchester to London) is able to code games, as is Mauricio Pochettino, while Lee Johnson has had Coach Paint installed in his home so he can telestrate video footage to show his players and staff the next day.
English clubs increasingly want development managers.
As QPR boss Michael Beale told us on the TGG Podcast: “In the 2021 Champions League final you had two development coaches (Thomas Tuchel & Guardiola). That's the way football is going, because the players demand it.”
Beale is an example of a development coach himself. He began his career as a youth coach at Chelsea and Liverpool before working with the first teams at Sao Paolo, Rangers, Aston Villa and now QPR.
This trend of Academy coaches being promoted to first-team manager can be seen throughout the leagues: Neil Wood (Salford City), Kevin Betsy (Crawley Town), Steve Cooper (Nottingham Forest), Rob Edwards (Watford), Neil Critchley (Blackpool & now Villa), Scott Parker (Bournemouth), Carlos Corberan (previously Huddersfield Town), Kieran McKenna, (Ipswich Town) and Liam Manning (MK Dons).
The reason for this trend is straightforward: if you want to develop players (and staff) you need development managers. Academies are all about development, so their coaches usually have these skills in abundance.
In recent seasons we've seen minutes for homegrown players increase dramatically in the Premier League. In 2019/20 alone there was a 50% increase in playing time for players under the age of 23.
The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), introduced in 2011, has succeeded in its stated objective of producing more and better homegrown players, as evidenced by the success of England teams at both youth and senior level.
Clubs, driven on by EPPP and eager to see return on investment, have embedded development within their strategies.
Huddersfield Director of Football Leigh Bromby, whose side reached the Championship play-off final last season, told us that development was a thread that runs throughout his club. There is an emphasis on improving players in every way, from nutrition to strength and conditioning to psychology.
At the same time, and for the same reasons, there has been a recent trend of appointing Individual Development Coaches. This person is specifically tasked with developing individual players, particularly those who are making the transition from Academy to first team.
Examples are: Eric Ramsay (Manchester United), Carlos Cuesta (Arsenal) and Steven Pressley (Brentford).
3. LONGER-TERM THINKING
When TGG launched in 2017, the majority of Premier League clubs did not have a Sporting Director. Now all but one does and soon there will be a full set, because Chelsea are in the process of hiring one.
Newcastle United Technical Director Dan Ashworth, who appeared on the TGG Podcast in December 2020, when he was at Brighton, told us: "The principle for a Technical Director is to look after the medium to long-term interests of the football club. It’s not about short-term 'get a result against Liverpool tomorrow.'”
This fundamentally changes role of the manager or Head Coach, because they now become a ‘spoke’ within this overall operation. Their focus is on preparing the first team and getting results.
Dave Reddin, the former Head of Performance and Strategy at the Football Association, welcomed this trend.
“This concept of the unicorn, who is paid 10, 15 times more than anybody else in the organisation, who has all the answers, is a flawed leadership concept in general and maybe underplays the value and opportunity from others in the mix,” he told our Future Game Webinar. You can watch a clip from his presentation below.
“It is too prevalent still, this idea that the Head Coach, the unicorn, is untouchable and nobody can really ask probing questions about how they’re doing things or what they’re doing to contribute to performance.
“Maybe what we see going forwards, if we think about the move away from unicorn Head Coaches, is this idea of more democracy. The idea that the coaching team and wider multi-disciplinary team create more value by working collectively within an aligned strategy and vision."
4. DATA AND TECH
This has been one of the biggest areas of change. Technology and data are now involved in every step of the coaching process:
- Training: Eg live GPS and heart rate data; training filmed with drones and pitch-side cameras; big screens at the side of the pitch to show players clips and analysis; video and data analysis taking place during or immediately after training.
- Recruitment: Using video (Wyscout eg), data (Statsbomb eg), tracking data (Second Spectrum/ SkillCorner) for scouting and recruitment. Data and video are, at least, a first filter in scouting and provide context throughout the process.
- Matches: Live coding; video analysis during matches and in more detail at half-time; tablets used on the bench to see video analysis and physical/ tactical/ technical data.
Today's players are Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) or Gen Z (born mid to late 1990s to early 2010s) and are comfortable using tech and data. In fact they expect it to be a feature of their coaching and learning. The graphic above, presented by Nottingham Forest first-team analyst Tom Corden at our Individual Development Webinar in May, illustrates this nicely.
This means coaches and managers have to adapt to the players they are working with, even if they themselves are not from these generations. The speed of change is fast and can be bewildering.
William Spearman, Liverpool's Lead Data Scientist, spoke in 2020 about how tracking data can be used to create 'pitch control models.' These can be used in pre-match and post-match analysis; for evaluating potential signings; and on the bench on matchday via a tablet to help the coaches and manager see where space is being (and where it can be) created.
This information can clearly be massively useful, although there are still issues about the speed with which the tracking data and visualisations can be relayed.
Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann has lamented the speed with which football is adopting new possibilities.
“Football is highly technological, but also a sport with a long tradition," he said last year. "Too often it hides behind this tradition. That has to be broken."
Arsene Wenger has predicted that the manager of the future will be “more a management specialist than a football specialist, because the football decisions will be made by technological analysis."
However - as ever - context is key. Any coach or manager needs to ensure that data and tech is actually making a difference to their decision making.
England boss Gareth Southgate has said: "Data is great, but what is the bit that makes the difference? What are the pieces that can help us inform where we want to focus our coaching time. We are still trying to come to terms with that as a sport.”
Luke Bornn, the former Head of Analytics at Roma and for the Sacramento Kings, picked up this theme on the TGG Podcast.
"The thing that caught me off guard the most was how interested teams were in data, but how little the data actually influenced decision-making," the founder of Zelus Analytics said.
"This has been a pattern of my entire career, observing where you will have an ownership group or board of directors who says, ‘yes we need to invest in data’ - and they might bring in an analyst, pay for some data - and then in the end the impact of this role is almost nil.
"That was probably the thing that surprised me the most, how an organisation could say ‘we think this is really important’ but not put in place the leadership or processes to actually execute on that data."
You can watch a clip from Bornn's interview above.
Despite these developments in tech, data, the Sporting Director role and much more, one thing remains true and probably always will: the most successful coaches and managers will be those who are able to build relationships.
As Southampton's Head of Technical Development, Iain Brunnschweiler (below), told us on the TGG Pod: "Developing relationships, either staff to staff or staff to player, is ultimately going to be the deciding factor in how effective your interventions are. We all know it, don't we?
"We will have had coaches or teachers in our lives who have just been able to connect with us. Those are the people who have had the most influence.
"It is very rarely the one who was a tactical genius, it is the one who made you feel special, or listened to you or who developed enough relationship to be able to deliver clean feedback."
This is arguably more important now than ever, as we move from a command-and-control style of leadership to one based around relationships - in schools, in football and society as a whole.
“Nowadays the more human leader is the one who is successful," Mauricio Pochettino has said. "The iron fist is a thing of the past.”
This places the player at the centre of coaching and learning. Some managers and clubs have really run with the idea, as in the example with Nottingham Forest below, where we see Lewis Grabban delivering video analysis to his fellow striker Keinan Davis - with impressive results in the next game.
At the end of the clip, first-team analyst Tom Corden explains the rationale behind players driving analysis.
The best managers have probably always recognised the importance of relationship-based leadership and treating every player as the individual they are.
As former Manchester United striker Andy Cole told us: “We’ve all got different personalities. Some are quiet, some are loud; some are strong, some are weak. Sir Alex (Ferguson) recognised how everyone is different.
“He knew I was a determined so-and-so and he knew what buttons to press to get the best out of me. He likes strong characters. To deal with people, to show them the respect they deserve, that’s a great quality and it’s why he was such a phenomenal manager. I don’t know how he did it."
This content was presented to the English Football Association's Pro Licence cohort in June 2022. You can see the graduates below.