The Arsenal, France and New York Red Bulls legend, Thierry Henry, announced his retirement from football this week. Arsenal’s “greatest ever striker” is now 37, so it is no huge surprise but his decision to move into media rather than management, or even coaching, got me thinking yet again about ex-players and the path they take when their playing days are over.
I need to throw in a disclaimer here – I don’t have any actual stats to back most of this up and I know how keen people are nowadays for football opinion to be bogged down in statistical proof but unfortunately it proved tricky to obtain such information.
How many great players, and potentially great managers, have we lost to the media? Why are so many players nowadays choosing the comfy seats of Sky et al as opposed to the very comfy seats of a dugout? There is probably a simple explanation here that I am about to make far more complicated.
Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, Alan Ball and Nobby Stiles (not an exclusive list) all chose to move into management, with varying degrees of success, following their illustrious playing careers. The only player of that generation that I can think of that moved “straight” into the media was Jimmy Greaves. That list of players potentially opens up a whole other debate about great players making great managers, but sticking to the point, why did players that had won World Cup medals (yes, I know Greaves didn’t actually win one at the time) feel the need to spend many a cold evening in the dugouts of Preston, Southend, Telford, Portsmouth and West Brom? I think there are two simple answers – firstly, a career as a football player back then, even a career that included winning the World Cup, was not financially rewarding enough to set someone up for the rest of their lives, so the likes of Charlton and Moore needed to work and the next logical step for them was to go into management. Let’s be brutal here, but there are kids playing in Premier League academies who have probably already earned more from their contracts than some of those true greats earned in their entire careers. Secondly, players of that generation did not have the same amount of choice available to them as today’s retirees do. Match of the Day was not yet the machine that it is now, matches were not reviewed endlessly on the internet by thousands of different media outlets and there certainly was not a game a day being screened live, so the amount of media jobs were incredibly limited compared to today.
I started thinking about how many potential “great” managers have we lost to the comfort of the media studios – and to qualify for this list they must have chosen the media first and not tried management, been sacked, and then gone into TV – think Paul Merson.
The first two on my list were there from when I was a kid watching them play; Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen. Surely these two greats of the 80’s would have made fine managers? Both were captains, so proven leaders of men. Both clearly had the ability to read the game impeccably, if you recall how they both played the game – minimum movement, but movement at exactly the right time. One of my favourite quotes from Hansen the player was something about him “hating getting his shorts dirty as it meant he had had to go to ground, meaning he had been in the wrong place to begin with” or something like that anyway. Both have shown, via their media careers, that they can communicate their views in a way that the majority can understand and surely their careers as players would have commanded respect in the changing room? It is important to point out that I understand completely that “great” managers have a lot more tools to their toolbox than the ones I have just used as examples, but if you have those tools I have listed you must have a better chance of success than not, surely? Considering that Hansen was available at the same time as Souness, I would imagine that there are at least a few Liverpool fans that wish he had been more open to the idea of succeeding Dalglish the first time round.
Another example, for me, and this one is likely to be seen as slightly left-field, is Jamie Redknapp. His entire life has been around football and he comes from a complete footballing family. The way he played the game again showed that he understands it totally. He had great vision and awareness. Admittedly, I’m not his greatest fan on Sky and his desire to make players “top, top, top players” drives me crazy, but I cannot help think we have lost another potential coach/manager here. He shares a lot of the qualities I described with Lineker and Hansen, though not in their total elite class.
Moving into more recent times, I look at the current Sky favourites – Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Yes, I know that Neville is involved with England but he qualifies for this list as his first job after retiring was working for Sky. I was blown away at how well Neville made the transition into the media and he has character traits coming out of his ears that tell me – surely he could make it as a manager? The same with Carragher, both were former captains, leaders on the pitch, readers of the game, clearly tactically aware as they demonstrated in their play and in the media to date and there cannot be a single player out there that would not listen to them after what they achieved as players.
This is not an exclusive list, at all, so why have they all chosen media ahead of management?
Well, management nowadays is even more pressurised than it was when the likes of Charlton, Moore, Stiles etc gave it a go, and it is worth pointing out, failed. Everything is more in the spotlight and it could be argued that the financial reward is not worth it if you are not massively in love with the idea of being a manager. Charlton and Moore were quoted in biographies as only really going into management as they needed to, not because they wanted to. Today’s retiree just does not need the money, so why would they set themselves up for all that hassle unless they really, really wanted to do it? If you look at it like that, sitting nice and warm in a studio, getting paid something similar to offer an opinion but make no decisions has to seem like a decent alternative. In many ways, they would have walked into jobs through reputation alone (once they got their qualifications) and by not doing this, it has opened up space for others who did not have the same level of success as players – the likes of Liverpool boss Rodgers and Eddie Howe at Bournemouth.
Back to Thierry Henry and where this ramble started. Do I think he would have made it as a manager? Well, to be honest, having watched him on TV during the World Cup, no – I don’t think he is very tactically aware. As a leader of men, I think he led more by example than by motivation. I also don’t think he was a great reader of the game, he had the most incredible pace so he didn’t need to (I challenge anyone to name a great manager that as a player had pace as his number one attribute). Reputation wise, sure, players would be in awe of him. Therefore do I think we have lost a potential great? No, and I am not even sure Sky have signed a potential great pundit, but a fantastic name that people will be drawn to watching.
Just think, if Hansen had taken over at Liverpool would Ferguson be considered the greatest manager of the modern era? Just saying…