When you make the crossover from player to coach or manager in football, it’s like stepping through the dry ice curtain as if you’re a contestant on “Stars In Their Eyes”.
The transformation is often stark, turning a once recognisable figure into a mutant form and just like on the show itself, there are those who look the part, the real deal who seamlessly morph from one to the other.
Then there are others who are merely an extension of their former selves.
Those are the ones who wave farewell to the audience and disappear backstage as Pat Christie, the slightly overweight postman from Slough, only to re-emerge from the stage smoke as Pat Christie, the slightly more overweight postman from Slough wearing a dodgy wig and a leather waistcoat, rasping out his own gravelly version of out Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”. Woeful at worst, unconvincing at best.
It might seem a long-winded way of looking at it but that’s how I look at some managers.
It’s the ones who are effortlessly convincing, the ones who organically grow into the job as if it comes naturally to them who are the ones who find success easier to come by.
I’ve said previously that Peter Reid was the precise photo-fit of how I saw a manager; naturally authoritative whilst still having the gift of being able to connect with players on their own level.
Now, it’s true that there isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a stereotypical model for how a manager should be, there’s a space for every shape but you have to find your own character, your own voice, and if I dare mention the “P” word, your own philosophy. You have to wear it like a second skin and that’s my point about seeing through those who find the role is an ill-fit for them.
Sometimes it’s a case of right manager but wrong club, and vice versa.
Luckily, I think, at the Stadium of Light we have a manager who is made for the job in hand right now. Look at Tuesday’s game.
But for some great goalkeeping from Joe Hart, some profligate finishing and a masterclass in subtle movement and finishing in the box from Sergio Aguero, a point was the least the performance deserved.
The club’s position is still precarious but at least there’s hope, at least you can still detect an air of defiance from the manager and the players, which is more than can be said for Aston Villa.
Remi Garde’s dejected demeanour was picked up on by the watching panel on BT Sport and I agreed wholeheartedly with David James’s point that it was up to the Villa manager to provide the fans with some hope and it’s his job to motivate the fans as much as the players.
Being a manager or head coach isn’t just about what happens on the training pitch or during 90 minutes on a match day.
If it was, then the job would be so much easier and as you make the transition from player to coach, you discover you’ve only ever seen the tip of the iceberg.
As the public figurehead of the club, fans of struggling clubs want to see players and managers fighting for their cause, striving for them, giving them confidence and hope, regardless of the discourse of disharmony and struggles behind the scenes.
Some managers would rather pull their own thumbnails off with pliers than give pre and post-match interviews but for fans it’s a direct link to their club and and a chance for them to take some control over what is being written and spoken about them and their team.
It isn’t about spouting lies and propaganda, trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes as some try.
Fans can see right through that, but if you stand there blaming everyone and everything, waving a white flag of defeat, the fans will just cry for out for change and to bring in someone who they think is doing all they can despite difficult circumstances.
It has been said that Garde feels he has been let down by his employers for not being able to bring in some new faces to aid his campaign but when that doesn’t happen you have to wipe your mouth and get on with things.
Before I came into coaching I never thought I’d spend a whole weekend trying to bring in a player and end up in a Mexican stand-off with a league club over £50 but it’s part of the job.
If you can’t get what you want, you do the best with what you have and part of that, whether everyone thinks the days of the motivator manager are dead, is to convince the players they are as good or even better than they actually are.
If it was simply left to the ability of players and coaches, the best team on paper would always win and the beauty of the game is that it doesn’t always happen, and football throws up too many variables to make it predictable.
A big bugbear of mine are player huddles on the pitch.
As someone who as captain of sides has orchestrated what happens inside those hallowed circles, I can categorically say they have no bearing on what happens after the players break away back to their positions.
No amount of rallying calls can make any difference because all you want to do at that point is to get on with the game.
In fact the best speech I ever gave as captain was to tell a joke. It didn’t get many laughs but we won 2-0 so it goes to show you don’t need to be Al Pacino in ‘Any Given Sunday’ to tease out a result from the team.
In fact, the mini stand-up routine was something that I’d remembered from my time at Sunderland under Peter Reid and it’s stuck with me ever since – and to this day it’s still the best joke I’ve ever heard.
It was when he first took over and we went to Turf Moor still needing a result to stay up and due to the huge away support that travelled with us, the kick-off was delayed.
The nervous tension inside the dressing room was palpable and the delay was only adding to it, so, with the best bit of psychology I’ve ever seen from a manager, Peter quietened everyone down and proceeded to tell his joke about a guy who’d been sent out to get a jar of snails by his pregnant wife.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it, but when the punchline of “Come on, lads, not far to go now” left his lips, there were roars of laughter around the place and lifted any tension that might have felt like a straitjacket out on the pitch.
Despite retelling it hundreds of times since, I’ve never been able to nail the delivery given by the Gaffer that day.
Looking at Remi Garde during his interviews, perhaps somebody should get their joke book out and start telling him a few shaggy dog stories.
Well, not until we’ve put a bit more space between us anyway.