CAPE TOWN – There is a vast chasm between playing and coaching. Often, because a footballer was a great performer during his playing days, it is assumed he will make a great coach. It’s not always the case. The two disciplines require a vastly different set of skills.
Yes, the experience and knowledge of the player will be important, but it won’t simply translate into instant coaching success: for every Zinedine Zidane, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, there’s also a host of top names who have failed to make the grade, like Diego Maradona, Hristo Stoichkov or Edgar Davids.
I was painfully reminded of this because of Thierry Henry’s struggles at French club Monaco. After a 4-0 defeat to Club Brugge in the European Champions League last Tuesday, the former Arsenal star has been handed a cruel lesson in just how difficult the switch from player to coach/manager can be.
He has been in charge for five games - three defeats and two draws - and there appears to be no light at the end of this rather dark tunnel for Henry.
To be fair, Monaco have probably been the architects of their own demise after selling off players like Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Fabinho and Thomas Lemar. But, since taking charge, Henry has hardly managed to improve the team in any way.
As a player, you are focused on yourself and contributing to the success of the team. So you work on your skill level, your stamina and conditioning, and in developing an understanding with your teammates; everything else is secondary.
And then, when embarking on a coaching career, you suddenly realise that there is just so much more to the sport of football. The focus is no longer inward; you realise it requires a great deal more: monitoring every single individual, both on and off the field; noticing changes which could affect the team; the endless planning and preparation; the constant tactical thinking and scheming; the sleepless nights; the decision-making so crucial to the outcome of a match; and so and so on.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, when asked about his success at the famous English club, once said: “When I work with the biggest talents, I tell them that hard work is a talent too. They need to work harder than anyone else.”
Back home watching how Cape Town City’s Benni McCarthy has made the transition from good player to good coach, Ferguson’s words certainly make sense. If there’s an aspect the former Bafana Bafana striker has stressed in his early days as a coach, then it’s “hard work”.
He doesn’t compromise on it - and many a player has been dropped because of a lack of effort on the training pitch. More than that, McCarthy’s passion and energy are contagious, and it infuses the City squad with the same enthusiasm for the task at hand. I repeat the Ferguson mantra: “hard work is a talent”. Too many footballers don’t realise the truth of the quote.
Essentially, though, there is no formula to coaching success - and, whether the coach was a great player or not, it doesn’t mean all that much. Essentially, it’s like everything else in life: what you put in, and how you go about the job, is what you get out. For example: Jose Mourinho hardly distinguished himself as a player.
But we know what he went on to achieve.