During my career in football, I have been fortunate to meet some very inspirational managers and coaches.
Here are some:
Steve Harrison - when I became youth coach at Watford FC the manager at the time, England coach Steve Harrison, was a very talented coach who took my coaching understanding to a different level.
I watched Steve many times coaching the first team and it was his ability to connect to individual players that impressed me the most.
The players were encouraged to play with understanding and confidence and through his 11 v 11 match practice sessions he delivered organised passages of play giving the team a movement plan in a match day situation.
It was something new to me at the time and a very valuable learning curve which I used many times in match day preparation.
Don Howe was another outstanding coach who I watched on a number of occasions. For me, he was in a different league as a coach and someone I hugely respected.
His sessions were focused on perfection and his ability to deliver sessions replicating match play was outstanding. He inspired players through his organised sessions and everyone involved learned from the experience. He had an outstanding understanding and his attention to detail was inspirational.
My all-time favourite manager was Bill Shankly, who took charge of Liverpool when they were in the Second Division and rebuilt the team into a major force in English and European football.
He led Liverpool to promotion to the top-flight First Division in 1962, before going on to win three First Division Championships (Premier Leagues), two FA Cups, four Charity Shields, and one UEFA Cup.
I can remember traveling to games listening to his interviews which I had purchased on CDs. His natural enthusiasm and the ability to recognise when to change what was a successful team was outstanding.
I recall an interview when he decided to change the team following an indifferent performance at Watford, His decision was to sign Ian St John and Ron Yeats. In his interview, he said: “Ron Yeats was an outstanding signing a colossus of a player who could have played in the back four on his own against Watford.”
St John scored three goals on his debut and went on to score 18, 19 and 20 goals in his first three seasons. The two purchases paid dividends as Liverpool comfortably won the second division title by eight points gaining promotion to the top tier of English football.
Shankly’s working class upbringing was his big strength and kept him grounded. Talking of pressure, he said: “Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all. Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship, or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.”
One of his most famous quotations is probably one that is often misquoted: ”Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
A great man - his autobiography is a must-read.
Sir Alex Ferguson - having been assistant manager and first team coach to Mark McGhee at Reading Football Club, Leicester City and Wolves, I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Alex Ferguson on several occasions, Mark having played under Sir Alex at Aberdeen.
Every so often when playing away we would train at Manchester United’s training ground. One Saturday morning, Sir Alex invited Mark and me to breakfast.
It turned out to be a very interesting discussion on the way he selected players to add to his team and the attention to detail needed to make sure the player fitted into the team philosophy and style of play.
He told us he was going to sign a centre forward. At the time Stan Collymore was flying at Nottingham Forest and Andy Cole was knocking in the goals at Newcastle United. He asked us which one?
With both of us deep in thought, he said ‘Cole’ and explained, at Manchester United, they spend 80 to 90 per cent of the time in the opposition half and Cole’s movement in and around the 18-yard box was exceptional and suited the way Manchester United played.
He explained that Collymore scored great goals but he came out of the 18-yard box sometimes collecting the ball around the halfway line to run at defenders which would not suit Manchester United’s style of play.
Cole signed for Manchester United in January 1995 scoring 187 goals in 414 appearances.
On another occasion, Sir Alex disclosed he was about to sign a centre half who would make a big impact on his team and how he thought the centre-half position was arguably one of the most important positions on the pitch, an area needing leadership quality and pace.
The player he mentioned and signed in July 2002 was Rio Ferdinand, who became the backbone of the team between 2002 and 2014, making 312 appearances for Manchester United, playing 81 games for England.
Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager of all time, speaking to him was very inspirational and rewarding - a man who managed with a strong belief and amazing understanding.
Not sure what these great men would make of these uncertain times but I‘m 100 per cent sure they would come through winners.
Stay safe and inspire others with your actions.