“We see that you’ve had nine jobs in the past five years. Can you tell us why you left your last position?”
“Well, the fans were chanting for me to go, we were staring at relegation, we hadn’t won in nine games and the players had stopped listening to me…”
Ever wondered what actually goes on in a football manager’s interview? How different, or not, they are to those carried out in the ‘real’ world?
Do managers like Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes and David Moyes have to provide references and a CV? Do they even have to apply?
One thing is for sure, there is no shortage of job adverts going up. In the 79 days of 2019 so far, 13 managers have left their positions in the top four flights of English football – one every six days on average.
Forget Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the longest-serving manager in English football is now Jim Bentley at Morecambe, while 49 of the 92 clubs have had their boss in place for less than a year.
All clubs and owners are different, and all interviews are different. But we tried to lift the lid on a little of the recruitment process…
‘There’s always a shortlist’
Before there can be an interview, there must be a list of candidates.
You’d like to think so anyway, although occasionally managers are seemingly appointed without much in the way of a process at all, such as Fulham sacking Slavisa Jokanovic and replacing him with Claudio Ranieri in the same press release in November.
So how is a shortlist drawn up? And when does that process begin? Worryingly for managers – but maybe reassuringly for fans – there is often a constant shortlist being worked on behind the scenes.
“I always had a list of six or so managers who I was tracking all the time,” says David Sharpe, who appointed three managers during his three years as Wigan Athletic chairman.
“If you have a striker who is scoring lots of goals, you should always be preparing for the day when he moves on. You have five or six players who you are scouting so that if you sell your number nine, you already know who you would like to bring in. It’s the same for managers. It should be anyway.
“I had their games watched, their style of play monitored, their recruitment analysed. We looked into how much it would cost to bring them in, which of our current squad they would want to work with, which they would be looking to move on.
“Everything was analysed so that before you even get to the interview stage you can make a good assessment of whether they are going to be a good fit or not.”
So far, so sensible. It hardly seems worthwhile appointing a manager who swears by playing 3-5-2 if you only have one striker and no wing-backs.
The names on a shortlist may also depend on the club’s situation. Do they need a quick fix, someone to come in and keep a club up in the last 10 games?
‘What sort of manager do you want?’
Nick Thompson was chief executive at Hull City and says there is one question clubs must answer before beginning the process of recruiting a manager.
“The starting point is: are you looking for a manager to come into a philosophy you already have at the club, a style of play, a recruitment strategy, or are you looking to appoint someone to develop their own strategy? The answer to that question may lead you to a very different candidate,” he says.
Clubs who cannot answer with clarity inevitably end up in trouble.
“We are seeing more and more now a type of manager specialising in a firefighting role, coming in to keep a club up for a few months – which is fine, but that’s probably not the sort of person you want to be planning your signings for the next few seasons, developing youth players etc,” Thompson adds.
At this stage clubs may also field CVs, usually sent in by agents. If your club have ever said they have had “50 or 60 applications for the job” then that is probably true, although Sharpe – who has just started work as a football agent – has a word of warning for potential managers sending in their resumes.
“To be honest, if you’re picking your next manager from an unsolicited CV sent in then it shows you haven’t done the work in preparation.” he says.
‘Give us a half-time team talk…’
So the shortlist has been drawn up, now it is interview time. Normally three or four managers will be spoken to, some more formally than others, usually at the club but not always.
“I would say there is no such thing as a typical interview,” says Sharpe.
“When I interviewed Paul Cook we had been waiting to get permission from Portsmouth to speak to him and it came through when we were both on holiday. He left his family holiday in Portugal to come to Mallorca with his agent and we spent a few hours talking in a poolside bar.”
However, it is more likely to be in the boardroom.
Michael Johnson, manager of Guyana, has had 10 or 11 interviews for coaching and managerial roles, and says he has been to many where he knew the job was already set for someone else.
Another factor to consider for a former player heading into the world of management is that there is a strong chance this will be their first job interview – of any sort.
“All of the interviews I have been to have been formal – close to a job interview in the real world I would say,” he says.
“I had one job interview that a friend of mine also went for and we ended up travelling together and waiting outside for each other. We all understand the waters we are swimming in.”
Not all interviews are just a chat though. One manager described a particular post that demanded a four-part interview which took most of a day.
First, he had to describe how he would sell a move to the club in question to a potential new signing.
Then, he had to leave the room, return and give a half-time team talk to the panel, after being given a scenario beforehand – “We’re 2-0 down at home and the striker is having a shocker…”
Thirdly – and perhaps most bizarrely – an actor entered the room playing the part of a parent of an academy player who was upset with the lack of game time he was receiving, with the candidate expected to be able to talk him round,
And as if that wasn’t enough, the manager then had to plan and take an afternoon coaching session. Exhaustive or what…?
‘Have you got PowerPoint?’
Allardyce famously claimed that his chances of succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager back in 2006 were damaged by the FA’s lack of PowerPoint facilities.
“I wanted to do a real knock-your-socks-off PowerPoint which looked at every single detail. There was nothing missing. Nobody but nobody was going to beat it,” Allardyce wrote in Big Sam: My Autobiography.
He was then told there were no PowerPoint facilities at the interview venue – so he was reduced to handing out hard copies of his presentation.
Every manager is expected to give a detailed presentation during an interview on what they would change and how they want the team to play. It is not enough to offer vague ideas or promises, they need to be able to back it up.
Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa had reportedly watched every minute the Championship side had played the previous season when he spoke to the club about taking the job, while Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers had spent his whole career prior to his first job at Watford preparing for the moment he became manager.
The Northern Irishman had a dossier and handbook on who he was, what he would do and how he would do it – and delivered “an incredible presentation” to the then chief executive and chairman at Vicarage Road in 2008.
“I would always rather have one very good slide than 10 average ones,” says Johnson, whose Guyana side face a key Gold Cup qualifier against Belize this weekend.
“It’s not about what it looks like, it’s what it is saying. You have to know what you want to do with the team, how you would make improvements, how they are currently playing. There is a lot of work that has to go in before you have an interview.”
Of course, not every manager nails an interview – just like in the ‘real’ world.
“Managers can have a bad interview just like anyone else,” says Sharpe.
“I have come away from a chat with someone who I was really excited to meet and was very disappointed. Underwhelmed.”
“I did speak to one manager who couldn’t name any of our players. That is not a great start,” adds Thompson.
‘If in doubt, give it to Mr X…’
The interviews have been held, PowerPoint has been loaded up – but does your club still appoint the same old familiar face? Why?
“In football, appointing a manager on an emotional response is often a recipe for disaster – but it happens all the time,” Thompson says.
“If a chairman or chief executive is of a certain age and they are sitting opposite Mark Hughes for a few hours, for example, it can be difficult for them to not see the centre-forward from the 1980s and ’90s who may have been a hero of theirs.”
Sharpe adds: “It is a business which rewards failure. That is why the same names are still being linked with jobs all of the time.
“Also, you can have a good manager, and a good man, who is just not a good fit for your club. That is where clubs often go wrong.
“Owen Coyle, for example, was appointed by my granddad Dave Whelan at Wigan. He was very impressed when he met Owen, they got on really well – but it was fairly obvious his style of play and management was not very well suited to Wigan at the time. And that proved to be the case.”
Some “real world” factors are still key for managers taking a job too, especially lower down the ladder. Pay and the dreaded commute come into a decision, as not many managers want to relocate their families – WISe considering the amount of time they are likely to get in a job.
Johnson, who is based in Derby, had a coaching role in Cardiff which often meant four lonely nights away from home in a hotel and thousands of miles a year on the motorway. Chris Wilder, currently guiding his beloved Sheffield United to a promotion tilt in the Championship, commuted from the Steel City every day while winning League Two at Northampton.
Deep down, football managers are just like the rest of us. And, it turns out, so are their job interviews.