RIGHT HAND MAN

Faz. The best Assistant Manager in the world. You may not know that, but Rui Faria – ‘Faz’ to you and I – is Jose Mourinho’s trusted assistant, and no doubt confidante. Now I’m certain Mourinho will appreciate the importance of his right hand man, but I’m not sure many of you will. It’s a key position at a football club and one which I am very familiar with as I have now been assistant to four different managers. All four were very different personalities, but the basic premise of the job and particularly the psychology, does not change from one manager to the other. It is one of the main reasons why many managers have kept the same person as THEIR right-hand-man through many different clubs. I’ve touched on it briefly in other blogs, but in this one I’ll attempt to outline how an assistant manager’s role forms a key part of the respect between the players and the manager.

As an assistant manager you have to be many things, but the most important thing from the manager’s point of view is trust. Not the sort of trust that ensures you’re not going to dip his pockets when his back is turned, but the trust that he knows you can do whatever is required, at ANYTIME. There are huge differences in the resources available to coaching staff at the top level, but that principle remains the same. In my experience, you have to make the manager’s job an easier one, whether he asks you to do a lot (as some do) or when you are asked to do a little. But above all, the relationship with the players is the most important thing. The manager doesn’t have to be liked, but the assistant does. He has to be a go-between, a counsellor, a good coach, a friend and a leader.

A tactical genius

The Monday will normally start around 8.30am, and the first thing to do is organise training, and regardless of the weekends result, enthusiasm and humour are essential in setting the tone for the week. How many players are fit? Who can train? Who can’t? A visit to the Physio’s room to assess all of these factors is first on the agenda. The physio room is where all the players tend to gather on a Monday, swapping stories and tales from the weekend. The sound of silence when the manager walks in there later in the morning is deafening. So when the assistant is summoned to the Gaffer’s office around 9.15, he will EXPECT you to know the answer to all his questions. Who’s fit, who’s not, who’s been out, who’s fell out with his wife and who’s fell out with someone else’s wife? This is the point when the relationship with the players is key. I was fortunate that I had been friends with Alex Rae for 25 years before we worked together so I knew how he worked and I knew what he’d want, but most importantly I knew how he would deal with the players. I could also use this to my advantage with the players on occasion. I could protect them and become important to them at the same time, I would say that someone had a tight calf if they felt they needed a rest or maybe they were feeling low or had some outside problems, or on a very rare occasion send him home with “Monday morning flu.” The Gaffer has enough to deal with and if I could make his job easier by handling small issues, I would. It also allowed me to build a fantastic trust with the players as they knew they could come to me in confidence.

As an assistant manager, you have to be incredibly subservient at times. I was no shrinking violet and the players knew that through my demeanour, they were also well aware that I didn’t tolerate non-triers, but everyone got a break now and then if they deserved it. However, I also knew that if I made a mistake, or said something out of turn, I could be cut down in front of the players, purely for effect. This would serve as a reminder that no-one would be safe from the manager’s wrath, should it be required and it certainly kept the players on their toes. And me on mine.

We would finish training about 12, have lunch and then get on with the video analysis of Saturday’s match, a key part of any week. However there was one occasion when it wasn’t required. We worked hard on tactics and team shape, we watched lots of midweek games, trying to pick up on anything that would give us an edge; an advantage. It was part of my assistant manager ethos. But on this occasion I was serving a one-match touchline ban for reasons I will go into later. I was due to serve it on the first day of the season, but that game was an SFL Challenge Cup tie at Alloa. Now the Challenge Cup wasn’t high on our list of priorities, so rather than sit in the stand at Recreation Park, I opted to travel up to Ross County who were to be our first league opponents the following week, in order to watch them and do some direct tactical analysis to highlight any deficiencies in their play. We had a lot of injuries, but I felt that County’s 4-4-2 was too open and exposed their midfield two and if we could get an extra man in the middle we could over run them in there and exploit it on the counter attack. They also employed “zonal marking” at set pieces, a real bugbear of mine, and we would start our players attacking the ball from the 18-yard box at corners and hopefully get a header in on the run whilst their players were standing still.

On the following Saturday it couldn’t have gone any better. We played 4-5-1, scored the first goal after 25 minutes from a corner and then sealed the match with a breakaway goal about 15 minutes from time. It’s a huge source of pride as a coach when you get it right. However, at this point, and in the interests of balance I think it’s important that I point out that, after our injury list had built up to an unsustainable point, and performances dipped, in the return match 10 games later at Dens Park, we lost 2-1 which meant that at stage of the season we had fallen nine points behind the leaders. A gap which was felt at that time to be too much and we were sacked on the Monday morning. Tactical genius right enough.

Sweet FA

Going back to my one-match touchline ban, I need to emphasise that whilst it is important that the coaching staff shows discipline in their performance both on and off the pitch, it is also crucial in gaining that respect, that they know you will “fight” for them in any way you can. There are times when players NEED to see that. A passion, a physicality, demonstrating your will to win, and of course on occasion, that can spill over, although this definitely wasn’t one.

It was an away game at Broadwood and we were a goal down with about 15 minutes to play on the league run-in, still fighting for a title. The ball was knocked out at the halfway line between the dugouts, and Gary Bollan (then Clyde manager) grabbed the ball. I ran over to get it as it was our throw and he turned with the ball outstretched, forcing me to put my arms round him to try and free the ball from the other side. He then dropped it and kicked it onto the pitch at which point we were both red carded. I was dumbfounded, and here’s where you’ll get an insight to our much maligned disciplinary system. I received the SFA letter asking me to appear at Hampden as I had been charged with violent conduct and was given a two-game ban. Seriously, I’m from the east end of Glasgow and I’d have been laughed out of Duke Street if I’d have told my mates that I had been done for violent conduct for trying to grab the ball off Bollan like a big girl’s blouse.

I trotted off to Hampden to fight it armed with a DVD of the incident and two pages highlighting the SFA’s own description of what was deemed “violent conduct.” I was found not guilty; however, I WAS found guilty of the lesser charge of leaving my technical area and given a one-game ban. I was furious, there was no other court in the land where you can be tried for one offence and found guilty of another. But I had no option to accept it and move on. In my eyes I had won anyway.

So there you have it, the assistant manager/coach/counsellor/big girl’s blouse and player liaison officer. I wonder if Chelsea’s Faz has a similar story to tell?

Onto this week’s tips and after a valiant effort by Bobby Mann last week and our fourth 2 out of 3 in succession, the baton moves to Alex Rae as our guest Tipster. This week Alex goes for Inverness at home to Ross Co. (1to2), Hearts away at QoS (10to11) and Hibs at home to Raith (8to11). It’s fair to say we are due a win.

David Farrell

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