I remember in primary school being jealous as hell of the kids that could paint and draw. I gave up trying to emulate them, drawing a straight line was troublesome enough. I suppose I did what most do when they are devoid of the necessary talent, I tried to copy. So you'd get your pencil and carefully place a transparent page over some wonderfully constructed picture, tracing carefully over the key figures. And you know what, it worked great to start with. The beginning of those traced art works of my early youth were certainly more aesthetically pleasing than my authentic scribbles thats for sure. Then came the addition of colour, now I was in trouble once more. What about the subtle touches the tracer didn't allow you to detect? Lets not talk about depth or perspective. It was demoralising. I guess it was a compliment, I saw what my friends created, thought it was magic, beautiful even and said 'ya I'll have a bit of that'. That's what they say isn't it, 'imitation is the greatest form of flattery'. Well the passing of space and time has taught me different. You see I didn't have talent for drawing, because I didn't love it, I never invested in trying to do it my way. The jump to tracing was a leap of a faithless boy. Had I truly loved it, I would not have given in so easily.
In last week's blog, I discussed Jose Mourinho and how ego was affecting his management of Manchester United. I suggested that he may be entering a period of failure that he wasn't accustomed to. It is, therefore, fitting that this week I discuss failure and how in society and in particular football we deal with it so inadequately. In Matthew Syed's book Black Box Thinking, he excellently articulates how it's actually from failures that we gain the greatest advances in knowledge. Using the medical profession and aviation as the focal point of the book he points to how the use of the Black Box in aviation has made flight one of the safest ways to travel. By analysing everything that happens right up to the point a plane crashes allows each mistake to be pinpointed and improved upon for future flights. This same self-analysis doesn't happen in the health care profession leading to mistakes and deaths which are not learned from. So how does this relate to Mourinho, or in fact all of us, who at some stage or another will experience failure? Very much like our ego, it is how we control this emotion will be the defining factor in how we develop as characters.
For most of us football fanatics there is a man who we have had a relationship with for over 5 years now. He left us before Christmas 2015 for a proposed love affair In Valencia, Spain. Gary Neville despite his 'Red' history wooed football fans of all afflictions with his incisive analysis of the beautiful game. He didn't pull any punches, mincing his words was not something he was guilty of. And then he took the leap.
Jose Mourinho, remember him, wished him well and then in typical Mourinho fashion he gave us his soundbite 'On the bench he cannot stop the video and move people around'. The media present laughed but the Portuguese linguist is careful with his words even when he sounds flippant. So why the cutting jab? Neville with his illustrious playing career, his ability to run a club as an owner and his undoubted knowledge of the game as so smoothly presented to us every Monday night would surely be an instant success. Mourinho appeared sceptical, was he taking the viewpoint of an Arrigo Sacchi 'You don't have to be a horse to become a Jockey!'.
Our world today is far from simple, but let this distract us not.
Let me take you on a little adventure to a time Over 15 centuries ago. When a Portuguese man by the name of Prince Henry, now known as Prince Henry the navigator, set up a school for explorers in Sagres, Portugal.Imagine it, the world as far as they knew was flat, going too far out to sea would have you encounter sea monsters. The sun burnt so bright it would make your skin peel off. These were the fears that existed in their minds, and yet he did not lack for men who wanted to explore, who searched for wealth and wished to spread the word of the god they believed in. The greatest of discoveries would soon unfold. And it begs the question, who was it that taught the art of sailing, the secrets of exploration to these great Renaissance men? Guided discovery in its most ultimate setting perhaps? They learned by doing, and whilst some failures were tragic, others (yes you Mr Columbus) were magnificent. As John F Kennedy put it, 'learning and leadership are indispensable to each other'
Last weekend I headed to Atlanta, Georgia. I was 3 weeks into an American road trip. My football/soccer addiction meant that such a road trip would have to be orientated around my profession and my true love, coaching!
The schedule for the NSCAA Director of Coaching Diploma was quite intense. Personally, I was looking forward to being on the opposite side of the fence as it were. Over 8 years as a tutor for the Football Association of Ireland has helped me develop as a teacher greatly. Perhaps, more importantly, it has given me an incredible hunger for more and advanced learning.
The tutors on this course were dynamic and passionate, you could tell they loved being on the grass more than anything. Yet, the grass was not the setting for this weekend. We were at times, metaphorically at least, in the classroom, the boardroom and the accountant's office. I have spent a lifetime now, my entire adult life avoiding such environments. We spoke more about parents than we did about formations and you could see at times that some of us applicants had an aversion for even speaking about this topic never mind dealing with 'them' in the real world!
In February 2016, I sat in the lobby of the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel, Limerick. I was waiting for my boss to arrive. For three months I had agonised about my next steps career-wise. When you are thirty two and you call football your full-time job you know you are blessed. When you work with people who come from your home place, Limerick, a town who loves it sport and a people who love their people. When your uniform hails the crest of your national association. Your game, your country, your home, your people. The prospect of change terrified me.
Welcome to part 2 of my ramblings on my football road-trip stateside. I was in NYC when I left you last and it is there that I pick it up once more. Before heading to DC as a tourist I met up with an old friend Naji Shatliff now Director of Coaching at Monroe township. This is a man you could speak football with for days. We hadn't met in nearly a decade and bar the odd line here or there on twitter or one conversation via FaceTime it amazed me how close our views on coaching are. Over this decade we have both developed a lot as coaches through courses, qualifications and most importantly experience. Many people see the role of the coach as being a position of instruction 'do this' 'do that' and of course at times it has to be that way. Naji however, sees it as a role of 'guidance', set the environment up and watch the players come up with the answers. I left my role in Ireland because I wasn't learning anymore, those who see coaching as a profession not a job refuse to accept such a scenario to develop. Speaking with Naji a man dedicated to continued learning was far more inspirational than watching Patrick Vieira put on a training session.
I write this blog as Manchester United sit 5 points behind the leaders and rivals Manchester City and 3 points behind Liverpool who are in 4th (Champions League place). So not exactly a team in crisis or are they? I would like to think that this is not a reactionary piece to some indifferent results but a view on Jose Mourinho's character which when read at any time during the season will hold an air of truth.
I approached this week's blog from the angle that one of the main reasons suggested as to why Jose Mourinho was a perfect fit for Manchester United was his 'ego'. By ego, I refer to the everyday use of the term and not the Freudian sense. It seems strange in a world where humility is considered an admirable trait and that its antonym, ego, is considered a necessary characteristic to be in a position of power be it business, government or sport. When Michael Essien was asked for one word to describe the genius of his former manager who signed him for both Chelsea and Real Madrid, ego was the word that sprung to mind. For Essien and the many others who suggested that ego was an important attribute to manage Manchester United they maybe mistook ego for what is really needed, confidence, a faith in one's ability which is a totally different thing and something Alex Ferguson had in abundance.