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 this week that I discuss failure and how in society and 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 most significant 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 pinpoints each mistake and allows improvement for future flights. This same self-analysis doesn't occur in the healthcare profession leading to errors 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.
Listen to any post-match interview with a manager/coach or player after an unfavourable result, and it will be a lesson in how not to deal with failure. Their natural instinct to find a scapegoat and willingness to blame others will see a whole host of excuses from the referee, the negative playing system the opposition employed, quality of the playing surface or in Mourinho's most infamous case where he blamed his doctor for going onto the pitch to tend to an injured player.
At this moment I think it's important for us to pause for a moment to reflect on what failure means to us and some of the emotions it conjures in our minds.
For many words such as shameful, embarrassed, disgraceful, discredited, disappointment, humiliated, mortified spring to mind. The reason for this is based on society's contradictory attitude to failure. We rarely see the positives from failing. We want to protect our reputation, so we start by defending our actions, entrenching ourselves in our beliefs, deflecting onto other people. What we see those managers/coaches and players do in public with a microphone in front of them is what many of us do when we try and justify our mistakes to ourselves and our friends - minus the microphone and hundreds of million people watching. The problem with this is that it perpetuates the problem especially when the person's ego believes it and fails to learn from their mistakes. By avoiding the truth in the short term will lead to more significant consequences in the long run.
So the perception in society is that failure is something to be avoided. When looking at the achievements of individuals, we often come across terms like 'natural' god given talent' or 'born with it'. What we fail to acknowledge - beneath the surface of success - outside our view, - is a mountain of necessary failure. This inability to accept failure is becoming a problem in our young athletes trying something new and failing results in many just giving up. Equally frustrating is when mistakes occur, the litany of excuses is an attempt at justification. The desire for perfection and achieving success in the first attempt or without much effort is creating a culture of a 'fear of failure'.
It is this fear of failure that leads to what is known as Self-handicapping. Self-handicapping is a situation where the athlete ends up sabotaging their performance at a point when things get difficult or more effort is needed than previously experienced. In the player's case, it may be not attending or trying in training or games. For others, they start drinking or socialising more. One only has to speak to any young player released from a professional club the reasons for not making it as a footballer are often 'I got injured', 'the coach didn't like me' or 'I was homesick'. Rarely will you hear it was because the player just wasn't good enough or they didn't work hard enough? Admitting these minor failings rather than admit to the primary failure that they weren't good enough to be a professional footballer.
So how do we change this attitude towards failure? There are two essential approaches I feel we as coaches can do. Firstly, It is imperative that we redefine failure for our athletes. Failure isn't an instinct. We are not born with a fear of failure. If an infant had a fear of failure, they would never learn to walk. Therefore it is possible to create a culture where we take responsibility for our actions. Accept that we failed but most importantly we will endeavour to not make that mistake again. If we want to create a culture where our athletes are free to make mistakes and not be punished or blamed then it is vital that we accept this and use it to help them develop. We saw evidence of this Pep Guardiola first season at Manchester City when he wouldn't criticise his defence for playing out from the goalkeeper. To do so would create a fear of failure and prevent the team from playing the style of football we have accustomed to with teams under Peps guidance.
Secondly, realising the levels that exist in football. Sometimes we can get carried away by the performance of our star player to the point of lavishing them with praise. The terminology we use will dictate the type of mindset and culture we cultivate. As mentioned earlier in the article, terms like 'talented' and 'natural' conjure a mentality that their ability doesn't require hard work and is somehow a gift from God. A poor mindset will become problematic when they move up a level and come up against better players. For some players, this is going from under 10s to under 12s but for many, the first time they have to deal with failure is when they leave their local team and join a national league team and compete against the best young players in the region or country. The ability to deal with not being the best player on the pitch and having to work harder on their game is a transition a lot of young players find too challenging to make. Learning is a process that often requires failure so we can achieve the most benefits. The earlier in life we realise this, the better understanding of failure we will have and help improve our lives both on and off the football pitch.
Next week I will develop this idea of Mindset by looking at the book 'Mindset. The new psychology of success' by Carol Dweck.
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 needed, confidence, faith in one's ability which is a different thing and something Alex Ferguson had in abundance.
When Mourinho was announced as the successor to the disappointing reign of Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford the universal consensus was that this was a perfect fit. A manager who had not only won at every club he managed but won quickly. Since taking over Porto in 2002, Mourinho has won 8 domestic titles, 2 Champions Leagues and 1 UEFA cup, which earned him the title of Portugals greatest ever coach in 2015. He has managed arguably the best clubs in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain so how is it that I stand before you critiquing such a successful manager. Is it that I’m some 'football Einstein' trying to delete 16 years of his career or is Jose's ego, so deep-rooted in who he is, becoming a problem to his managerial career success.
In the book ‘Ego is the Enemy’, Ryan Holiday debunks many of the myths which we may feel make it acceptable for people who are successful or in a position of power to be egotistical. In a recent interview speaking about his book, Holiday explains that "It's not so much that I want people to think less of themselves, it's that I want them to think rationally and objectively about their skills, not optimistically. Questioning ourselves is what drives us to improve and get better. In addition to that, the less time you spend thinking about yourself, the more time you spend thinking about others and the work you're doing and the standards you set for yourself. This approach is how you stretch and grow and throw off selfish, egotistical things". Sound familiar Jose?
The book is broken into three aspects of ego in the circle of life. We are either aspiring, succeeding or failing. How our ego reacts in each of these states will help define the type of person we are and how successful we will be in life. For Mourinho, his early career was spent as a devout student of the game. He got a sports science degree and his football qualifications. He worked in various areas of football such as youth coach, scout and interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. From there he began his managerial career with brief but successful spells with Benfica and Uniao de Leiria. This eagerness to learn is an essential aspect of all our characters. For many being a student starts and ends in the aspiring stage when in fact it should stay with us throughout our lives. I'm not trying to say Jose stopped learning, but indeed, in this early part of his career, he gained a vast amount of knowledge which shaped his football philosophy before moving into a period of succeeding with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
From the moment Jose arrived on the shores of Britain we were in no doubt that this manager had not just ego but a massive one. Self-appointed the ‘special one’ he arrived at Chelsea on the back of remarkable managerial career started with Porto. Success followed to Chelsea (league and domestic titles) and then to Inter Milan winning the treble (domestic league and cup and Champions league).The calling of Real Madrid had everyone in no doubt that this one-time interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson was indeed the 'special one' and was destined to become the greatest ever manager. The juggernaut of Mourinho's ego was at full speed ahead. He was announced as the Galactico manager to manage a team of Galacticos.
Although cracks started appearing during his time at Inter (bitter arguments with rival managers, authorities and media) success on the field helped paper over these warning signs. Therefore, I feel the history books will cite his move to the Galacticos of Madrid as a pivotal moment in the demise of Jose Mourinho's managerial career. He had reached his apex of success at the San Siro and was now entering a new era in his career where failing was something his ego would have to become adjusted to. Despite having the most expensive squad in the history of Real Madrid, he only managed one league title and one domestic cup in three years of reign. It may be argued by "Mourinhistas" that he was unlucky to have led Real Madrid at a time when Barcelona was so dominant. That may be the case but acknowledging the role of external circumstances on the success of his career is something Jose just does not do. All of his significant accomplishments could easily have been undone but for lady luck having a hand in them. While at Porto, Robert Douglas goalkeeping error and Bobo Balde sending off in 2003 UEFA cup final with Porto or the last-minute winner versus Manchester United in the Champions League in the last 16 in 2004. The fact he was the most financial backed Chelsea manager in their history. The beating of Barcelona in 2010 by his Inter side, in one of the most one-sided Champions League semi-finals. As far as Mourinho is concerned all his teams had won because of the 'special ones' influence on the side. This is the difference between confidence which is based on what is real and ego which is based on delusion and wishful thinking.
His time at Madrid came to a bitter ending. The former general manager of Real, Argentinean legend Jorg Valdano was scathing in his attack of Mourinho, saying “he [Mourinho] is a figure which is perfectly suited to the bombastic shallow times we now live in”. The bright light that shined on Mourinho was beginning to fade and fear kicked in. Failing in his dream job hurt Mourinho and his ego reacted the only way it knew how telling him what he wanted to hear when he wanted to hear it. In true egotistical fashion, on leaving Madrid Jose deflected the blame on everything from conspiracies, bad luck, to those in the press room, to Madrid legends Ramos and Casillas and most surprisingly his fellow compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo. When questioning his attitude saying "maybe [Ronaldo] thinks that he knows everything and that the coach cannot improve him any more". Mourinho arrived at Madrid as a Galactico but left with his ego exposed. On defeat to German side Dortmund in the semi-final, he spoke of the disappointment of not winning a third Champions League, an individual record (Madrid were going for their 10th European title). This personal disappointment was something that didn't go unnoticed by the Spanish press and got him rightly criticised. He expressed his need to "be somewhere where I am loved unreservedly". A return to Chelsea a month later was to be a return to that place of worship. The Messiah had returned. The most successful Chelsea manager. His second coming was short-lived, however, despite winning the league in his first year. A terrible start to his second season resulted in him publicly blaming his players and the infamous Carneiro incident which embarrassed both manager and club which was pivotal in his dismissal. Again his ego had burned bright but burned quickly.
So the 'special one' arrived in Manchester to much acclaim. The man to lead this club to the glory days of Alex Ferguson when a disappointing season was finishing second and winning only the FA Cup. There is no doubt that Jose Mourinho came into football with great self-confidence, but as the former NFL coach Billy Walsh explained: "self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon". It is this belief in Mourinho's specialness that may ultimately undo his creative abilities which the late Sir Bobby Robson saw in him all those years ago. Jose's managerial career has always been a case of 'better to burn out than fade away' spending less than three years at each club. As success in the premier league becomes more and more difficult, burning out may be his only option unless Jose returned to his aspiring years when he was a student of the game, always willing to learn and most importantly to show humility to his staff, players and fellow peers. Something which hasn't been evident in a long time.
In the third paragraph, I listed Mourinho's career titles, what I failed to do was break it down to was pre-Madrid and post-Madrid. Between 2002-2003 to 2009-2010 he won 7 league titles and 2 Champions League titles. In the last 6 seasons, he has won 2 league titles and no Champions league. This statistic may be food for thought Manchester United fans!!!
In next week's blog, I will look at Matthew Syed's book 'Black box thinking' and discuss how failing does not make you a failure.
Thanks for your time