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Book Review: The Manager

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Monday, March 15, 2010 by Paul Grech

The Manager by Barney Ronay

Barney Ronay is a difficult one to pin down. A senior sports writer for the Guardian, he is often the one to pick up ackward stories - a recent piece went by the title 'Should Sepp Blatter Lock Himself in a Cupboard - and in all fairness he rarely writes anything that isn't interesting. The tonality he uses is more often than not humorous and this was echoed in his previous book 'Any Chance of a Game', a witty (and highly personal) take on parks' football.

That, however, sat at the other end of the football litterary spectrum to 'The Managers' which places itself as a serious examination of how the role of the manager has developed over the decades.

Today, that a manager is the man who makes all the decisions at a football club is taken forgranted. Yet it wasn't always the case as Ronay shows in this study of how managers came to exhert increasingly more influence at football clubs, not to mention the number of quirky facts that he brings to life along the way. It is also Ronay's belief that ultimately things will be back to where they were with the club's owners being the ones who make most of the decisions leaving the manager with a peripheral coaching role.

That this is presented (in an overly dramatic way) as ultimately being a bad thing is typical given British football's culture. But it also discounts the success of the system in most of Europe where it is the general manager who holds all the power. And, given how English clubs - not to mention the national team - are constantly looking to employ foreign managers would suggest that there is at least some merit to the continental system that allows the manager to actually get on with the job of managing the set of players that he is in charge of.

This somewhat insular view is perhaps the book's biggest failing. There will always be many out there with the belief that the manager is, as Ronay describes him, 'the most important man in football' and that might indeed be the best way in some cases. Yet using the history of the role - as well as the limited number of times in which a director of football has been imposed in England - as the reason for which it should be kept this way is, frankly, limited. Indeed, if anything, the evolution of the role should highlight precisely the opposite: that what seems to be the best way now may, in hindsight, prove to be exactly the opposite.

Rating: 2 out of 5.