José Mourinho is never one to keep his views out of the media headlines, even when he ‘prefers not to speak’, yet his post-match interview following United’s opening day victory over Leicester yielded some surprisingly thought-provoking comments. The United boss said that managers should probably be referred to as ‘head coach’ in the modern day. Although this was little more than a throwaway comment, it offers a fascinating insight into how football management is changing.
The reason behind Mourinho’s latest comment is his frustration at Manchester United’s lack of movement in the transfer window, as the Red Devils failed to land a host of centre-back targets including Harry Maguire, Diego Godín and Jérome Boateng. The Portuguese coach was claiming that his powerlessness over transfer policy means that it is no longer fair to call him the ‘manager’ as so much responsibility now lies with figures such as Ed Woodward. Some might dismiss this as more of the Mourinho moaning to which we have become so familiar, but on this occasion I feel he makes a sensible point.
Player recruitment is such an important part of the modern game that nobody can truly feel in control of a football club without having at least a significant input in the area. Manchester United is not the only club which has progressively taken power away from the manager over recruitment. Chelsea also place much transfer responsibility on directors of football and chief executives, while clubs like Wolves are even giving power to external personnel such as the super-agent Jorge Mendes.
Across the country, power seems to be slipping away from managers and being placed in the hands of people with limited football experience and even less accountability. Football management is increasingly centred around developing players already at the club rather than striving to bring more in. Perhaps the suit-wearing managers of the recent past are soon to be replaced by tacticians in tracksuits. The role of managers is becoming increasingly confined to on-pitch matters, with off-the-pitch developments being handled by others.
This actually goes some way to explaining the actions of the likes of Mourinho in the last couple of seasons. With responsibilities once given to the manager being handled by others, managers have instead been forced to use the media to send messages directly to those in charge of transfers. Mourinho has earned himself a reputation for cryptic media messages, while Rafa Benítez often uses the media to send messages to Mike Ashley and only named five substitutes for the Toon’s Premier League opener at the weekend. Where managers used to dictate transfers, now all they can do is send pleading messages to those in charge.
The modern day football manager now has less control over their club, and thus must adapt their methods in order to put pressure on those above. It will be fascinating to see what the future holds for football managers, but it would not surprise me if the successful clubs of the future are led by coaches rather than managers.