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Jim Spence: Ian Cathro victim of the ‘deep thinker’ curse

Ian Cathro.
Ian Cathro.

The phrase ‘deep thinker’ is a curse of the modern football age.

It has become vacuous guff applied with hushed reverence to any boss who spends more than five minutes contemplating whether to go 4-4-2, or 3-5-1, as though the decision was equivalent to Max Planck’s theory of quantum physics.

It will be chiselled on the gravestones of those unsuccessful football managers who thought so deeply about the game that they forgot that the object is to score more goals than your opponent.

Perhaps it is time for fewer deep thinkers and more wide players, oh yes and two up front please.

Football management is complicatedly simple: it is ‘complicated because bosses have to deal every day with the often daft antics and different needs of umpteen disparate individuals; it is simple because they only have to coach an often high-spirited bunch of boys into a functioning football unit.

Great football coaches are like great teachers: they understand instinctively how to get the best out of people and they make their lessons simple but effective.

Over-complicating instructions to players causes confusion as to what they are being asked to do.

Simplicity is the key and clear instructions to players as to what is expected from them on the pitch are crucial to success.

Many coaches can struggle to convey their instructions to the dressing room in words and phrases which are crystal clear, and players struggle to comprehend the nature of the tasks which they have been set.

Football in essence is a simple game.

Undoubtedly there are important tactical nuances and complexities but these must be easily digested and understood by players to give the team any advantage.

Many coaches have a very sound and deep knowledge of the way they want a game to be played but there is also something much more intangible than a great grasp of tactics and formations, which ultimately separates those who are good coaches and those who are great managers.

That something else matters enormously.

It is perhaps the most crucial element of all of the manager’s skills.

Call it what you like – aura, charisma, drive, leadership – it all adds up to the same thing, the ability to inspire players to perform to the very depth and reach of their abilities: an ephemeral essence, which rallies the troops and binds them like glue with their boss.

As Hearts’ sacking of Ian Cathro proved earlier this week, coaching accolades count for nothing if the players cannot, do not or will not respond to the man in charge.

Cathro pitched up at Tynecastle with a fine reputation and, of course, that dreaded phrase hanging around his neck like an albatross –  as a ‘deep thinker.’

The appointment of the young Dundonian, who had never played at any serious level yet had won plaudits for his fine coaching at Valencia and Newcastle, was regarded as an innovative move.

Coaching and managing players, though, requires different gifts.

Cathro now has an opportunity to hone his management skills so that, in future, should another managerial job arise he can combine those skills more effectively than he did at Tynecastle.

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