Eye for talent is what separates also-rans from coaching greats
Posted Saturday, July 27 2013 at 01:00
Successful politicians have it. Dollar billionaires breath it. Top artists, inventors and scientists ooze it. And the world’s greatest sports managers carry bags of it. So what is this, that separates ordinary mortals from societal greats? It is the X Factor, drive or winning attitude, and the ability to identify it in potential employees.
Let me put it better. A good number of people possess a winning attitude, but because you can only be great if you have a winning team working for you, it is the ability to spot the X Factor in potential employees willing to work for you that separates wannabes from real greats.
The X Factor could be spotted in a glint of the eye, a dogged spirit or immaculate skill, but it is the refusal to accept to be second best that defines it best.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho can identify a player with this attribute from a country mile. That is why he identifies Didier Drogba as the greatest player to work for him. He could have chosen Cristiano Ronaldo, who is no slouch, and is perhaps more gifted. But he chose Drogba.
This is because, whatever you might think about the giant Ivorian, he is the one player who the manager and club could always count on to pull the Chelsea out of a spot of bother. Always the leader in the dressing room, Drogba carries bags of attitude. Drogba is now in the twilight of his career, but Mourinho has offered him a job to be part of his coaching staff.
He trusts him that much. The Special One’s emphasis on character/leadership is why the Chelsea side from his first spell 2004-2007 was full of players who captained their national sides.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) John Terry (England), Michael Ballack (Germany), Andrei Shevchenko (Ukraine), Michael Essien (Ghana) and Petr Cech (Czech Republic) at one time were captains of their countries.
The most pronounced error of judgement Mourinho ever made, and he is now ready to atone for it, was over Wayne Rooney. In the summer of 2004, when he had just taken over Chelsea, the Happy One was asked whether his club would bid for the talismanic English teenager.
His answer was that he already had Eidur Gudjonhnsen in the same position. He must have regretted it as the Icelandic strikers’ career petered out within 3-4 years.
Rooney is, on the other hand, still going strong and he wants him to lead Chelsea’s charge for the Premiership title. The coach is preying on Rooney’s refusal to be second best to Robin van Persie.
But by far the greatest practitioner on this emphasis on attitude, is retired Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The legendary Scot, built, broke up, and then rebuilt four generations of Red Devils’ sides using his excellent players’ judgement. Never afraid to take a gamble, Fergie sold Andrei Kanchelskis when he was the best right winger in England to make way for the fledgling David Beckham.
He did the same with Ruud van Nistelrooy, making light work of his prolific goals return, to make way for a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Needless to say, Ronaldo is the best player to don a United shirt in two decades. Ferguson achieved such longevity and greatness, in part because he was fiercely loyal to players who showed him a winning attitude by bailing him out of tough situations.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continued earning his wages at United when he was way past his sell-by date because Fergie wanted to continue rewarding him for his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final.
To the gaffer, Solksjaer deserved eternal rewards for loyalty and the X Factor that contributed to his team’s greatness. Similar loyalty was shown to Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. Lately Federico Macheda, has somehow stuck on United’s payroll because of the winning goal he scored for them against Aston Villa, when the 2008-9 league title was slipping away to Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.
Matter of fact, as soon as Didier Drogba announced he was leaving Chelsea following his penalty shoot out heroics in the 2012 Champions League final, Ferguson gave him a call inviting him to join United.
What Ferguson had seen, is what Mourinho saw nine years earlier when he signed him from Marseille. It is this ability to tell a winner from a mile away, and the willingness go the distance to draft them onto teams that has made the two managers the pre-eminent football managers of the 21st Century.
Move over Pep Guardiola!