Republican News · Thursday 07 September 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Winning is all about leadership


What makes a great football manager? It's a fair question.

What made Jack Charlton a success and Bobby Charlton a failure?

Why is what was achieved by the same individual on the field of play sublime artistry, but in the dugout unambitious pragmatism (Dalglish)?

I've been pondering this while witnessing the turnaround in the fortunes of my team, Celtic. The same players who last season couldn't beat Inverness Caley Thistle, went at Rangers last month ``like a pack of hungry wolves''. The only change is a change in the dugout.

Players like Bobby Petta, who were anonymous last season, have become junkies for the ball. His sole mission in life now, it seems, is to torment right backs to distraction.

The man in the dugout last year was laid back, affable John Barnes, who always appeared that he did not care if the team won or lost. Subsequently, they usually lost when they should have won.

This season, it is a South Derry man on an invisible pogo stick. If Celtic lose a decision on a throw-in, he reacts like a compulsive gambler who has been waiting for the turn of a card to see if he can afford a life saving operation for his kid.

I've played the game for money, albeit nearly 30 years ago and for not a lot of money. The dugout matters. So does the dressing room. It's the confessional, GHQ. Strangers have no place there. It's where the tribal patriarch prepares his charges for the rigours of the hunt, for the thrill of battle.

As these words flicker to independent life, the PC is playing the theme tune from Braveheart. It reminds me of the battle scene where the power shifts from the ineffectual nobles to this painted savage who stirred the spirit of the men. William Walace/Mel Gibson used humour, insight, passion, and psychology. He made them believe. As they cheer his battle speech they become his. His men believed in him.

They believed enough to hold while terrifying armoured cavalry come earthtremblingly close to running them down. They believe, so their discipline holds. They tore their expensive opponents apart.

The historian in me knows that the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 was somewhat different to that enacted for the cameras on the rolling fields around Trim County Meath. But it presented beautifully what it is to weld a disparate group of individuals into a unit.

The qualities of a great general are the qualities of a great football manager. You have to have been there yourself to get the respect of your men. The game is based on territoriality and in the skills needed for the hunt. Aiming, hitting targets, cornering prey and, crucially, working as a team.

That is why Martin O'Neill will be a success at Celtic, why Alex Ferguson has brought so much silverware to Manchester United. A large bank balance helps, but courageous and committed leadership is what counts.

On the evidence of the recent Irish international against the Dutch, Mick McCarthy is improving in these qualities. His players fought hard and were disappointed when they came away with just a draw. They expected to win. They were hungry and will take that hunger to Portugal next month.

McCarthy must be aware that his legacy as Irish manager rests on this campaign for World Cup qualification. He stands accused of spineless tactics in away matches that cost qualification for Euro 200O.

In Holland, his players had the confidence to take on the Dutch and defended bravely. This team is capable of qualifying from a tough group, but supporters will settle for wholehearted performances as epitomised by McCarthy's men under Jack Charlton. Hopefully, Mick has discovered the necessary grit.

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