under pressure | 

Why big name managers are playing to different rules when they step into the dug-out

Aston Villa's English head coach Steven Gerrard. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Kevin Palmer

"You don't realise how much football management consumes you. Football is a drug and not all drugs are good for you."

The words of former Rangers manager Ally McCoist speaks from very personal experience when he reflects on his foray into football management and the strain he went through at so many levels.

A legendary Rangers and Scotland striker, McCoist found himself in charge of Rangers at the darkest moment in their history, as they were demoted to the bottom tier of the Scottish league ladder amid a financial crisis that pushed the club to the brink.

It was a challenge that would have tested any novice manager and for McCoist, who scored a stunning 355 goals in 581 games during his Rangers career, it was a task that put a huge strain on his mental and physical health.

Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Damien Duff are among the high-profile players who have taken a step into the managerial hothouse in recent years, but McCoist has told the Sunday World that they have stepped into a world liable to break most to step into it.

"Football is a drug and I understand why former players still need it when they finish playing, but not all drugs are good for you," begins McCoist, speaking to us as part of the UK's National Lottery Football Weekends campaign.

26/04/14 LEAGUE ONE.RANGERS v STRANRAER.IBROX - GLASGOW.Rangers' play gets the thumbs up from manager Ally McCoist (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

"When you go into management, you don't realise how much it consumes you.

"It's only when you step away from it that you actually get a life again. You can go and watch football again and enjoy it. You can spend time with your kids and your family.

"Listen, there is no one who loves football more than me, but I'm very happy to be where I am now and I have no great desire to get back into management.

"You look at guys like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and ask why are they moving into management now? They don't need the money, so why do it?

"The answer is this is all they know. They are football people and need to be part of the game.

"These guys have been absolutely phenomenal footballers throughout their careers and they won everything. They are some of the most technically gifted players England has produced in years and years.

"Now they are not playing, they want their football story to continue and that's why they are trying management.

"It's in their DNA that they want to be in football, be in a dressing room. I get that, but it is a tough job."

Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Alan Shearer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Thierry Henry are among the list of A-list names who have tried and failed to generate the kind of success they enjoyed as players in management, with the mental toll cutting deep when the tide turns against a manager.

The truth is footballers are not trained or qualified to deal with aspects of football management that former Liverpool and Ireland striker John Aldridge admits he would never return to management after his spell in charge of Tranmere between 1996 and 2001.

"It wasn't just the pressure of trying to get results that broke me," says the Sunday World columnist, who took charge of 269 games as Rovers boss.

"I couldn't see the wood from the trees a long time before I left Tranmere and it was the whole job that was too much.

"You have players coming to you with personal problems, agents giving you grief, chairmen and owners putting pressure on you. It's relentless and you never switch off.

"As a player, you go to training in the morning, maybe go and play golf in the afternoon and you don't have to think about too much else.

"When you are a manager, everything is on you and I couldn't handle it by the end. My family were having a hard time because of the mood I was in and it had to stop.

"As I look back now, I probably was a bit harsh on some players and maybe I could have done things differently

"But you don't do everything right when you are not in a good place and that was certainly the case for me at Tranmere."

The football landscape Aldridge was operating in as he led second tier side Tranmere Rovers to a League Cup final against Martin O'Neill's Leicester in 2000 is very different to the multi-millionaires playground that is the modern Premier League.

It's a change that inspires McCoist to suggest managers working in the top Premier League clubs now have even greater challenges than those who went before them.

"I am often asked do I regret not being a player now and that question is often linked to the finances available in the game now, but I have never seen it like that," he adds.

"We were well paid in our day and as I reflect on my career now, there are no regrets.

"I'm very grateful for everything I achieved, the trophies I won and the moments I enjoyed."

And McCoist recognises a worrying divide in today's game.

"There is no doubt that the game has changed dramatically for a number of reasons and I think it is a real shame that fans and players at the top clubs have never been further apart.

"In my days, I would go and score a few goals for Rangers on a Saturday and then go and have a few pints with the fans after the game.

"That's can't happen now, for a number of reasons, and this detachment of modern players from everyone else is a problem for managers as well.

"Players turn the tap on and off for managers much quicker now and we have seen that at Manchester United and other clubs in recent years.

"It's tough for a manager to handle and guys like Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City are masters of getting the best out of players and keeping them onside. That has never been more difficult than it is now."

Only the very special ones succeed in a football management world that is as ruthless as it is cynical, as unforgiving as it is relentless.

The football legends who have put themselves in the management firing line appreciate they are playing a whole new game - and this time they are unlikely to win.

To find out more about The National Lottery Football Weekends’ and your nearest match visit www.thenationallotteryfootballweekends.co.uk.

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