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Manager vs Head Coach: Who is the real boss?

Published 01/31/2016, 2:21 PM EST

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via Reuters

Let’s be honest. How many times have you cursed your manager after your team lost a game? Or else, how many times have you blamed the management of your team for not getting enough quality players for the team?  But in reality, how much of the blame does the manager actually account for? What does the head coach actually do, and how is he any different from a manager? Why is a head coach, who’s title has become sort of a trend doesn’t really stand up?

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A manager is a part of a football team who has complete authority over the running and functioning of the team. He has the autonomy to choose his supporting staff, along with the provision to add players to the team if he deems it necessary. He is the one in-charge, and he makes sure the team gets the results. Sir Alex Ferguson is the best example of a manager you can find- he made sure he got the players he wanted for the team and had complete authority over his first team selection, along with a select few of his supporting staff who used to aid him during training.

A manager is not just involved on the pitch.  His domain extends over the entire club at times, including regulating the player’s nightlife, as we have oh-so-often seen. This amount of freedom which is given to the role is the precise reason why not every person who stands up as a manager is suited for the job. It is often misunderstood that a classic legend of a player will obviously emulate his beautiful football with team he chooses to manage, because he knows his way around the ball. Yes, his sound knowledge of the game might give him an advantage over those who haven’t, but that doesn’t transform his player-handling capabilities or make him a leader. Andre Villas-Boas, who had had the opportunity of managing Chelsea before moving from Spurs had achieved a treble in the very first season he  managed Porto. He had no playing career with the ball, and yet he was one of the very few to achieve this feat. A manager’s main role is to ensure victory for the club, for which reason he is given free responsibility. These include management, tactical knowledge and Public Relations among many others.


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A head coach, rather, is like a teen studying. All though he is completely responsible for what he does in school, his parents dictate what he  does outside of it. A head coach is only given the responsibility of ensuring his team putting a good performance in the match they are playing. That includes the likes of choosing a first team and training the players in specific sets of routines required for their position in the team. The management of the team is under the club board, and any player who joins or leaves the team does so on their calling, and not the coach. It’s like running on the beach with heavy ankle weights.

Tottenham Manager Pochettino, in his interview over a year ago quite accurately put what the difference is in the two roles. He said-


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“If you are the manager, you decide many things about the club. But if you are a head coach, your responsibility is to play better, try to improve the players and to get positive results.”

“At Southampton, I was a manager. My responsibility was not only to coach the team. With Tottenham, I am a head coach.  A head coach is head of your department. My department is to train the team.”

Unfortunately, the positions often go unnoticed by the fans. As known from above, Pochettino is a head coach. Tony Pulis and Gus Poyet were head coaches back at West Brom and Sunderland respectively. Guus Hiddink of Chelsea although an interim manager, operates more like a  head coach, due to the management’s influence over the club.

While a head coach is technically a weighed down post of a manager, he is often expected to achieve the same results. With the ignorance from fans even, a head coach often finds himself in the deep troubled waters due to the constant pressure of results and the lack of freedom to make sufficient changes in the team. The new trend of being a head coach is more trouble than not. They often turn around to blame their own management for not giving them the required funds/players, in order to try woo the support of the fans to prevent them from being inevitably sacked. Di Canio, Rene Meulensteen, Alan Irvine, Villas-Boas are just few of the names who were sacked after being the head coach for their respective clubs.


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While the formula of a head coach might work well in certain leagues in Europe like the Bundesliga, it is so because of the management giving enough space for the coaches to do their job well. For smaller clubs, the role of a manager and a head coach do not really differ much as the manager doesn’t have much to look after apart from his team. Alongside, their requirements are given weight and are considered by the management more carefully than being dismissed. The team’s requirements also play a major role in the choosing of a head coach over a manager. Head coaches tend to be more technically sound and are brought in to improve the playing quality of the team. This system will not work in England because of the constant headbutting of the management of the club in the manager/head-coaches affairs and every single club being high profile. Apart from that, being thick-skinned and being able to respond to the English media without trying to deface the club’s name is tougher when you cannot put the blame on the management.

What English clubs need is a strong iron-clad manager, who takes the responsibilty and stands up to it. Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp are among a dying breed of top notch, pure-bred managers who defined the role. The shifting of blame in a head coach system needs to be weeded out, and if English football is to move forward, we need more legends like them.

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Written by:

Srivats Venkateswaran


One take at a time

Red Devil forever. Engineer by nature, Football by the heart. Sugar, Spice and a whole lotta tadka on the side.
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