CAPE TOWN – The human condition weighs heavily on all of us.
As we labour our way through birth and growth, emotion and ambition, adversity and conflict and, above all, the evanescence of existence, it’s evident that we are all products of our environment.
Our background, our circumstances, the people we meet, the books we read and everything that’s done to us all coat the character to make us what we eventually become.
We are slaves to the psychology of our experiences.
Football coaches are no different. I was recently intrigued by an article I read in the Guardian newspaper about Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho and how his managerial approach and football philosophy are predicated on his background.
According to the writer, because Mourinho never made it as a player himself, he has a compulsive need to assert control of the big-money footballers he manages; he constantly inserts himself into the action, to make everything about him.
Also, the writer goes on, when Mourinho never got the Barcelona job in 2000, he was “poisoned” by the rejection.
He remains incensed that many still refer to him as the “Translator” – so he sees himself as the “outsider”, and now every country he goes to, every club he oversees, is an opportunity to prove that he is the best.
I’m not suggesting that this opinion is gospel – but, even if there is just a grain of truth in it, it sped me on a tangent about the psychological make-up of coaches in the PSL.
How has their background, their environment, their experiences, coloured their coaching styles?
Gavin Hunt is one of the most successful coaches in the country – and there’s no doubt his approach is rooted in his past.
The secret to his success is there for all to see: to win league titles, it’s all about defensive structure.
This attitude, of course, took shape during his early years growing up in the naval suburb of Simon's Town, and it was to be cemented when playing under former England international Budgie Byrne at Hellenic.
As a right back, Hunt was schooled by Byrne about the importance of defence – and, having played under Byrne myself, I know how highly he prized shutting the back first instead of gung-ho, suicidal offensive manoeuvres.
In essence, a team has to earn the right, through defensive organisation, to launch attacks.
Often when I watch Hunt in action as a coach, both tactically and his body language on the sidelines, I can’t help but see his mentor Byrne.
Benni McCarthy is new to coaching, but already it’s clear that his past, his environment, is just as visible in how he goes about things.
Having grown up on the tough streets of Hanover Park, the former Bafana Bafana striker hasn’t forgotten those roots.
He understands the fight, he knows the difficulties and, as a coach, he demands footballers who, in his own words, “leave everything on the pitch”.
Because, in short, that is the Cape Town way – for McCarthy, there is opportunity in difficulty, and this is his coaching approach.
Think of the driving, relentless ambition of Pitso Mosimane and Eric Tinkler. Mosimane was one of the first to leave South Africa to turn out for Greek club Ionikos in 1989; Tinkler signed for Vitoria de Setubal in Portugal in 1992.
As players, the duo were never at ease with comfort zones; they always needed bigger challenges, they always demanded more from themselves – as coaches, they are now doing the same.
In the case of Mosimane, who was fired as Bafana coach in June 2012, think about what he has achieved since then. Like Mourinho, Mosimane has been inspired and motivated by rejection.
I remember back in the early 1990s playing against Fairway Stars (now Free State Stars), and they had an elegant central defender organising everything.
He was the fulcrum of the team, cajoling, urging and demanding more from everyone around him; a real impressive, highly intelligent presence already back then.
The player: Steve Komphela.
Like me, the Kaizer Chiefs coach is a former school teacher, and the same pragmatism and erudition can be found in the didactic nature of his football philosophy.
To be a football coach is not easy. Try walking into a dressing-room packed with massive egos, try standing in the dug-out when all manner of insults are hurled at you, try doing a job where you are second-guessed by just about every Tom, Dick and Sipho.
And then add to that the pressure exerted by a club boss who often doesn’t really know all that much about the game?
With all of that, what does a coach have to rely on – yes, his background, his experiences, and the environment that shaped him.