Among the applications received by the Oldham Athletic board for the recent manager’s vacant post were the now commonplace group of applications from Football Manager acolytes. For those who don’t know, Football Manager is a marriage-crushing football manager simulator, one whose depth and accuracy of scouting knowledge Arsene Wenger admitted to calling upon when he first arrived at these shores.
Any Football Manager addict worth his salt has triumphed in the Champions League with a team similar in stature to Stalybridge Celtic, or Oldham Athletic for that matter, becoming a virtual master of tactics, player management and transfer acumen. The Oldham Athletic board disregarded the FM wizard’s applications, along with over a 100 others from more established and reputable managers, and instead turned to Lee Johnson, the 31 year old who becomes the Football League’s youngest manager.
Johnson’s first interview after his appointment and indeed that of Simon Colney, the Oldham chairman, were dominated by questions about the risk being taken in appointing a candidate with no coaching or management experience. Both replied to this line of questioning by talking about Johnson’s football upbringing and the lengths he has gone to learn his trade from those in the know. Is taking on a 31 year old with no previous management experience a huge gamble? And if so should we deem it to be?
A quick glance at high profile managers in European football tells us that competent managers can be both those who have had successful footballing careers (Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini) as well as less successful ones (Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger). Of those in our second group, more time was spent learning their craft due to the lack of intensity in on field matters and their playing careers stalling in comparison with their more decorated peers. In (former PE teacher) Mourinho’s case, acting as translator at a major club provided much fair bounty in the way of insider information. One might even argue that a successful playing career gets in the way of building coaching knowledge, using the argument that younger minds are keener to learn and are less tainted by previous failures and setbacks. Despite what Chelsea fans may make of him, Andre Villas Boas’ Porto team dismantled all opposing challenges in only his second season of managing top level football, and he has not one professional playing appearance to his name either.
It seems that having time to watch football from across the world, study coaching methods and make contacts could be the optimum way to approach a career in football management. Oldham Athletic fans will certainly hope so and after winning his first game against Hartlepool 3-0 and earning draws against Swindon and Northampton in his second and third, young Lee Johnson has an unbeaten record to show for his years of study. It’s unlikely but maybe one day he will reveal in a press conference from his seat in the Manchester United or Barcelona press room that his knowledge and skills came from playing Football Manager. What does matter is that a lack of actual managerial experience or winning top flight honours as a player does no harm to the potential chances of him earning a seat in that room in the first place.