Tams Tales – Man Management

By  Tam McManus

“The ability to control and organise people who work in a business or organisation.”

That sounds about right, doesn’t it? But how does it apply to football? To managers and players?

I was a professional, full-time football player for 17-18 years – starting at Hibs in ’97, finishing in Limerick in 2014 – and got through a whopping 23 managers.

Honestly? I was no angel as a player.

It pains me now to say my attitude was questionable, as was my work rate at times but, that said, the best spells I had as a player were under not necessarily the best coaches but the managers who filled me with belief and confidence.

The guys who were clever enough to know if an arm around the shoulder or a boot up the a**e got me going. In short, the best man-managers knew what best made you tick – almost like a psychologist getting into a player’s head. Not eight pages of tactics or an Any Given Sunday speech. It’s no coincidence these managers got or are going to the top of the game which I will elaborate on shortly.

There are a few things that in my opinion irritate football players most in terms of man-management and contribute to a manager ‘losing’ that player, the dressing room and ultimately his job.

For me it is the single most important attribute a coach or manager can have, especially with the big money now being earned and the big egos involved.

I came under one of those categories and unfortunately it wasn’t ‘money’…

Yin and Yang, Criticism and Praise, Carrot and Stick.

A huge part of everyday life in every workplace. You do something wrong, you get criticised and it stings but then you go and do something positive and get your pat on the back. You spring back up like Zebedee. But what if you are criticised and hammered for your mistakes and not praised when you do something good? You will start to get a chip on your shoulder, eventually switch off to that person and think that they just don’t rate you at your job.

You are never going to get that person to go that extra yard for you in the office or on the pitch.

This, in my opinion, is THE single major failing in some of the managers I worked under who proved to be unsuccessful. Not game-knowledge or tactics.

I’m talking about managers coming in after a game and slaughtering a player for a goal celebration rather than the fact that they had just won a game in the final minute, or if you put in a fine performance the manager says nothing to you after a game, not a word. No pat on the back but the next time you make a mistake the hammer comes down.Poor people skills and I have worked with guys like that who unsurprisingly didn’t last long. Another is RESPECT and I will give you an example now. You have started in the team the previous Saturday and played well but for whatever reason (tactical, player returning from suspension etc) the gaffer is leaving you out.

Meanwhile, you are sitting unaware of the bombshell to come and sit horrified as the manager flips over the chart to reveal the team with your name nowhere to be seen! You shrink into your chair as the anger engulfs you. With no reason given the humiliation is palpable as you sit with 16 sets of beady eyes burning through the back of your skull.  Many managers did this which personally I always found a bit of a cop-out but Alex McLeish was a master of pulling players before the game. It actually became a running joke that you would hide from him after your pre-match meal as the shout of ‘can I have a word?’ from the big man meant you were bombed out!

But him telling you the reasons why you were dropped before the bombshell was a small crumb of comfort to your battered ego and, trust me, it gained him huge kudos among the squad. If you had a stinker the week before he didn’t bother, though, as you should have known yourself that you were binned!

Unsurprisingly he went on and was a huge success as a manager. For instance, before the Scottish Cup Final against Celtic in 2001 I was 20 years old, a kid really, and fighting for a place on the bench.

Some crucial winning goals at Stirling and Kilmarnock to get us there had me thinking I would make it but on the morning of the game he pulled me to say I was the odd man out and he was going for experience on the bench at Hampden.

I cried my heart out down at Cameron House and was bitterly disappointed but it would have been 10 times worse if he had done it at the stadium with everyone staring at you to see your reaction.

I didn’t agree with it but respected him for letting me know early which brings me onto the other side of it.

January 28, 2012.

 The League Cup Semi-Final – Hampden – Ayr United v Kilmarnock.

A massive Ayrshire derby and a chance for Ayr United, a struggling first division club, to turn over  their fiercest rivals and get to a Cup Final.

I was in and out of the team in that second spell with the Honest Men and knew I wouldn’t start the game.

tam-mcmanus-1There were 17 in the squad but only 16 jerseys and as I chatted the night before in the hotel with my roomie, Mark Roberts, would the fact I had signed a pre-contract to go to the Rochester Rhinos in just three days go against me?

Or would my experience and ability get me on the bench? I was 100 per cent fit and just had to wait.We headed for our pre-match meal in Glasgow and I glance over nervously at Brian Reid for any signals.

Nope, there was nothing and as we approached the bowels of Hampden I felt I was in the 16 as surely he would have pulled me before ala Big Eck above.

I would have accepted the fact that he wanted to go with the lads who had got them there and were going to be at the club to the end of the season and shook his hand.

A 31-year-old experienced pro who came in on a short term contract to help the club on, in football terms, buttons (£150 a week) I thought I at least deserved that. Brian then reads the team and the subs out at 1.45pm in the dressing room and I am the 17th man.

I genuinely wanted the ground to swallow me up. It was mortifying. A simple two-minute chat would have sufficed. I haven’t spoken to him since. In my opinion that was not managing a situation properly or treating someone with respect.

So, bar those two games and the other two finals I lost with Hibs and Dunfermline, Hampden was a happy hunting ground!

Hopeless would have been the consensus from the majority in Scotland. That fair?

tam-mcmanus-2Maybe not, I am very happy to report. Taking a Dundalk, team, with an annual budget of €850,000, from near liquidation, with not a pot to p**s in, to two league titles and two Cups in the last two years, to a Europa League group stage spot and over six million Euros and within a couple of goals of the Champions League group stage. Beating the Icelandic champions and a Bate Borisov team who beat Roma in the Champions League group stage last year along the way.

Fairy tale stuff. Achievements made with players on 40-week contracts, some of whom sign on the dole during the barren winter. People on the outside will be thinking how did he manage that with that budget and group of players? It’s almost miraculous. Simply put he is the best man-manager I have ever worked under. Guys like McLeish, Donald Park, Stuart Taylor and Steven Pressley were also very good but he stood out. He filled me with so much confidence it was scary and had so much belief in me. I had received a few knocks in my career to that point and sometimes you just need someone to put his arm around you and say they not only rate you but trust you. If a manager doesn’t trust you then you will never play.

Subsequently I had a great spell under him probably my best spell since I was a kid at Hibs and we almost came back from the dead to stay up that first season at the Pars. The following season was a nightmare for various reasons. We as a group were not good enough but, a bit like Paul le Guen at Rangers, he wasn’t helped by being a foreign manager and the cliques in the dressing room that had built up at East End Park over a number of years. He went back to Ireland and has rebuilt his career. I went over and worked again with him again at Derry City and the players absolutely adored him, as do the Dundalk lads by all accounts. I’m not surprised as he really is an inspiring character.

He is also a little eccentric to put it politely. He had a famous pre-match ritual in Derry. The boys were all waiting on the team talk in the dressing room and he would come bursting in the door at 80mph, roll his sleeves up to his shoulders and proceed to pace furiously forwards and backwards, head down for a good five minutes. It genuinely was comical and difficult to not burst out laughing but then would come the screaming!

“Do you know what they are saying about you? Them through there? They think you are s***e, a team of bottlers with no heart, that they are you going to do you today. Are you going to take that?


He then went round every player to ask them and holding back the giggles each of us would answer sheepishly ‘no, Stephen’ It didn’t matter if it was Skonto Riga or Shelbourne!

We knew they didn’t say anything of the kind but it relaxed us before games and got us going. He was also the only manager I played under who went through every single player before a game and told them how good they were in front of the group. It was inspiring and made you want to run through a brick wall for him. That didn’t happen after a game mind you if you played poorly but then that was down to you!

Brendan Rodgers has turned water into wine with James Forrest. Pep Guardiola the same with Raheem Sterling. Both spent last season being mauled from all and sundry, confidence shot to pieces. They have been rebuilt and revitalised by two top level managers.  Maybe they just put an arm around there shoulders and told them how good they were. Maybe they got the carrot instead of the stick.

You would be amazed how often that does the trick.

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