I thought the article that Mark refers to by David Runciman’s in the LRB was a necessary corrective to the myth of the manager he rightly takes to task. It’s analogous to the concept of the super-CEO.
Both make too much play of the effect one individual has and downplay the importance of chance, or the efforts of their subordinates and the the behaviour of external factors beyond control of the CEO/Manager. Both are self-serving myths in that are used (in business anyway) to justify stellar salaries at the top and downsizing at the bottom.
The myth in football is used to justify the idea that replacement of a manager is the solution. Ironically, the Leagues Managers’ Association would be far better campaigning to get their members acting like the big I am, as the idea that a judicious firing of a manager and the hiring of another will work wonders is encouraged by managers claiming such magical powers for themselves.
The interesting development is the type of person like Mourinho is, which contravenes a far more pervasive myth in football that the only person qualified to manage is the football man, who is grounded and suffused in the game. This invariably is an ex-player, and in a sense, the LMA is the SCR to the PFA’s JCR. Both are full of arcane rites, both are part and parcel of a system that they mutually reinforce, despite the occasional antagonism between them.
Mourinho is different. He wasn’t a player and doesn’t subscribe to the osmotic theory of management that managers arrive at a an understanding of the game through simply doing it. Mourinho prepares rigourously, and, whilst he can’t control every factor (despite presenting himself as being able to do just that) he works to remove as many elements of chance as possible. He’ll wind up referees, he’ll prepare dossiers for players, he’ll change teams around quickly in response to changes in the game. The main thing he does is prepare players to be able to deal with chance.
The simple truth between myth-making and Runciman’s statistical means is that the best teams win because they have the best players coached by the best managers. Good players can only go so far without decent management (hello Gerard Houllier!), whilst good managers can only take an OK team so far (hello Charlton!). Good managers sometimes don’t work out with good teams. It’s a funny old management matrix, Saint!
Which takes us back to the emblematic magical manager of myth, Bill Shankly, who said that a football pitch was no place for children. You needed adults who could take responsibility, make decisions and be trusted to respond to the game. Teams who are able to manage co-operatively on their own are best placed to master the variety of circumstances that could face them much better than dictatorial control freaks. As in football, as in life.