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13th Feb 2017

NIALL QUINN: He may not have played much ball, but Paul Clement knows how to manage

Great playing career is no guarantee

Niall Quinn

It must have been a confusing week for Claudio Ranieri.  Rumours of player discontent last weekend were followed by strong backing from the powers that be at Leicester. Then came a dizzy FA Cup night in midweek and Sunday it was back to the dripfeed of misery with the 2-0 defeat to Swansea.  

As he shook hands with Paul Clement at full time did Claudio think that this was maybe the strangest few days in this 43-year love affair with professional football? He played for four clubs and then over the last three decades he has managed 16 more.  He won the Premier League last year and must have figured that at long last he had got football and football management sussed.    

Sunday he was shaking hands with a former PE teacher who looks and talks like a hard man from Eastenders, a man who played for Banstead Athletic and Corinthian Casuals but who had just been named Premier League manager of the month. Clement has single-handedly refloated Swansea from the reef that they had got themselves stuck on.   

How has he done it? Derby County fans who saw him sacked while their team was fifth in the championship must be wondering if they threw away a diamond. Swansea City fans know that feeling. The club bumped off Garry Monk with too much haste but memories are short. Clement is the new messiah.  

He has been to some of the great places of learning as a coaching assistant. Bayern, Real Madrid and PSG. An unusual education for an English manager. Most of the time his mentor was Carlo Ancelotti. He was obviously a good student, but his badges were no more impressive than his predecessor Bob Bradley who went onto become characterised on Soccer AM as Coach Brad Bobley.

Since the Premier League began only eight managers have won the title. Three Italians, Ancelotti, Mancini and Ranieri.   Two Scots, Dalglish and Fergie. One Portuguese, Mourinho. One Chilean, Pellegrini and a Frenchman, Arsene Wenger.  

Fergie, the greatest name on the Mount Rushmore of managers, finished playing at 32 after a journeyman career that began at Queens Park and ended at Ayr. Forty-one appearances for Rangers was the highlight. When he took over as manager at East Stirlingshire the world didn’t notice let alone expect greatness. Although one player said that he had “never been afraid of anyone before but Ferguson was a frightening b******  from the start.”

Fergie won 13 titles and never stopped scaring people.  If that was the only criterion though how do we explain men like Wenger, Pellegrini and Ranieri who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, unless the goose was reffing.

Wenger had a career which reached the dizzy heights of semi-professional football and he spent the last two years of his playing career basically laying the groundwork for going into coaching.  Mourinho famously was a translator even if he did admit this week that he had to ask a friend what the word ‘churn’ meant.   

Greatness as a player is no indicator of success but neither is it necessarily a hindrance. Arrigo Sacchi, whose paid job before going into football management was as a shoe salesman, answered early doubters thus: “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first”.  

Carlos Parreira and Bora Milutinović are the only two managers to each have led five different nations to World Cup finals.  Parreira had no playing career, he started as a fitness coach.  Milutinović never played at international level. Way back Bertie Mee, who brought Arsenal to a double, had a playing career of under 30 matches for Mansfield and Southampton before becoming a physio.  He’d been doing that job for six years at Arsenal when he was asked to become manager  (Arsenal fans were shocked when Wenger was appointed.  Imagine the physio being offered the job). Bertie asked for a get-out clause in his contract, so he could go back to being the physio after 12 months if things didn’t work out.  

Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte would have been top of the class during their playing days. Pep has come to England and learned that ‘churn’ is what your stomach does when you see your star players underperforming.  Conte took just a few weeks to get the hang of it. 

Jurgen Klopp played for Mainz for a long time but as of now Klopp’s application for a spot on Mount Rushmore has been placed in the “pending’ file  for the foreseeable future. 

Paul Clement will point to having had a great mentor.  But from Fergie The Mentor’s 13 title-winning teams for every Mark Hughes there has been a Paul Ince, a Ole Gunnar Solkjaer (Cardiff version not Molde), a Paul Parker. Even the likes of  Brian Robson, Gary Neville and Roy Keane have had their struggles.  

You look at great players hanging around now in the holding pattern waiting to become great managers.  Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard are the big fish. Do they know what goes into the make up of a great manager? They’ve seen it all but can they teach it? I hope so. 

However, the great hopes of current English management, Eddie Howe, Monk, Sean Dyche and now Clement haven’t an international cap between them. None of them were players that everybody kept an eye on.  

Even a guy like Marco Silva, putting some buoyancy into Hull right now, played all of two Primeira League games in Portugal in a 15-year career?

If you were Gerrard, Giggs and Lampard would you be a bit hesitant? With your money made and your reputation still golden would you have the savage hunger to put it all on the line again. And if the answer is yes, then what? 

What has Clement got that Bob Bradley didn’t have?  And how can you get a badge for it?  Can it be bottled?

There used to be a story (probably an untrue one) doing the rounds years ago of a gap between the walls in the away dressingroom at Bramall Lane where supposedly a Sheffield United trainee would squeeze in and listen to the visiting manager’s team talks. He’d then hurry on over to the home manager to tell what he’d heard.  No badges in them days but t10-out-of-10 for invention.

So that does it really take to make a great manager in the modern era?  You know, I’d tell you but with a 20% league win record as a manager myself there is an 80% chance I would be wrong. 

Niall Quinn is a former Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and Republic of Ireland striker. He currently works as a pundit and co-commentator for Sky Sports, and also writes for Sportsvibe.

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