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Managing is a young man's game - Michael Owen

Saturday, 4 January 2014 - 8:24am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Managing is a young man's game Sherwood and Solskjaer are part of an exciting breed who bring a fresh approach and new ideas to the game, writes Michael Owen in his column for The Daily Telegraph.

The young managers now packing the Premier League are not as vulnerable as they appear. They understand the intricacies of the modern game, the culture the players have grown up in and the expectations of owners and chief executives in an age when the men in the dugout have been stripped of many of their old powers.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge of Cardiff City this week at the age of 40. Tim Sherwood, who comes up against Arsene Wenger for the first time today in a north London derby in the FA Cup third round, is 44. Mauricio Pochettino, the Southampton manager, is 41 and Brendan Rodgers the same age as Solskjaer. These men are not scared of the big changes football has been through and I find that refreshing. Footballers are now millionaires at 18 if they are good enough. They are the man on the street cast into a new universe.

That creates all sorts of tensions, which need managing, and some older managers struggle to relate to the culture of which they are now part. It is alien to them. With younger, fresher coaches, though, there is no culture gap. They have a sharper understanding of why today's players behave or think the way they do, as well as the game itself, which has evolved dramatically over the past decade. Not only that, but the idea of being head coach rather than all-powerful manager is less off-putting to a 40-year-old because he never managed under the old system.

As a player, too, he will have seen the shift away from dictator-managers. This must make him more appealing to a billionaire owner. There is not the same resistance to a new way of thinking. Think of it this way: a Sam Allardyce would feel pretty aggrieved at being stripped of his normal powers. But if I were to go into management now, I would expect, for example, to see someone above me dealing with transfers.

The blueprint would already be there. It is much harder for an owner to change the thinking of a manager who has been used to working another way throughout his career. Solskjaer and Sherwood are examples of young managers who will adapt. Like it or not, owners are not going to risk hundreds of millions of pounds only to be bossed around. So, in many ways, management now favours the younger person. Older managers are fond of saying; "The game doesn't change, the ball's still round, it's still pass-and-move."

But it does change. By the time I retired, football was unrecognisable from the day I first kicked a ball for the Liverpool starting XI. A top player coming out of football now and going straight back into management has a crucial advantage, because he understands those seismic changes. They are part of his life story. Experience is an invaluable quality. But if you are 60 years old now you are managing in a totally different industry to the one you started in. Much of that change will be disorientating. The younger ones will complain less than the older men, and that will endear them to owners.

Sir Alex Ferguson was able to move with the times. That marked him out from most of his contemporaries. I look at how he delegated in his later years, how he embraced change, how he embraced sports science. Manchester United had the biggest sports science team I had ever seen. It was bigger than the coaching staff. There was so much emphasis on staying ahead of the game. Without that open-mindedness, his success might have dried up. The temptation must be for Sherwood to send out a very strong team at the Emirates because he has too few stripes to field a weakened side. But with his results so far, he has already established his status as a manager with ideas and a willingness to be bold. To see his teams set out with the intention to attack has been uplifting. Tim's aim is to outscore the opposition and play people in their natural positions.

Four-four-two used to be the standard formation. Now we have three-man central midfields with only one striker. Sherwood has been brave enough to challenge the modern convention and play with two strikers. Rehabilitating Emmanuel Adebayor has brought a double gain.

A good goalscorer is back in the side and Roberto Soldado is now back in his best position, off the main centre-forward. Rodgers pulled off a similar trick by finding room for Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in the same Liverpool XI. Tottenham's win at Manchester United was an eye-opener and Sherwood will make the short journey to Arsenal with the same attacking outlook.

I played with him for England and he was always blessed with self-belief. It helped him earn the Spurs job in the first place. Restoring Adebayor to the first team was a masterstroke, but also a strangely obvious one. If a manager brings you in from the cold you will go that extra mile for him. A new manager needs a way to imprint himself on the side, and often one big change is sufficient. There could be one casualty - as I was with England under Fabio Capello - or one player saved from the wilderness. Otherwise the players think: "Well, it's the same-old. Nothing's changed here."

Now, Spurs have pace and numbers in the box and look like they are going to score every time they go forward. Many of these young managers are my contemporaries. I played with and against them. I am involved in a lot of other areas now but there is no denying that I go to bed some nights thinking: 'I fancy the challenge of management.' I would have the confidence to back myself, just as Sherwood has. But I am busy, happy and content with my decisions. I will just have to live with the regret of never trying my hand at management. We can't have it all.


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