Lost in Translation: Why English managers are so bad

The first in a series of articles detailing why I think English managers are currently bad, using the story of Frank Lampard’s managerial career, to date, to better help in explaining my thoughts.

Part 1: Lampard & Sarri

English is my first language and an arrogance can come with the language when it’s your first. I’d even suggest that if English is your first language, then English is probably your last language. When English speakers go abroad rather than learning new languages, some just speak English slower and expect the natives to be able to decipher the meaning. It’s lazy and arrogant, but there is a sense that English is the only language you need.

Frank Lampard replaced Italian manager Maurizio Sarri as the head coach of Chelsea in July 2019. In comparison to Sarri, one of the major upsides of bringing Lampard in was his crystal clear command of the English language and the clarity in which he could get his thoughts across to his players, the fans and the media. Holding the status of Chelsea’s record goal-scorer, Lampard clearly honed the skill of playing professional football to a high degree. Coaching football, however, is a different skill to playing it. The vast majority of footballers go through at least 10 years of academy football in preparation for a football career at the highest level. For some reason, the respect and preparation for coaching at the highest level isn’t paid the same reverence.

There’s a loss of reverence for learning multiple languages with English speakers because English is so widely used across the globe. This same sentiment is shared with taking your time to craft your coaching skills among successful footballers.

When they arrive, the weight of coaching offers to these players comes from what they’ve done in their playing career and is offered to them so easily off the basis. This was something that Jamie Carragher alluded to on a Monday Night Football show, with former players being impatient in their race to the top, when it comes to these jobs.

If you know someone whose first language is not English, ask them how many languages they can speak. A lot of the people I know that do not have English as  a their first language, tend to speak 5 different languages and English. That’s the respect that they have for communication.

I find these same parallels in coaching. Compare Lampard’s journey into the Chelsea managerial role with Maurizio Sarri’s. Sarri didn’t have a successful playing career, he didn’t play football professionally at all. He is a former banker, who for years combined coaching in amateur football with his day job as a foreign currency trader. The regard for his coaching philosophy that eventually landed him the Chelsea role has been built slowly and steadily from humble beginnings managing in the eighth tier of Italian football, 30 years ago. Lampard due to his footballing career, had only one year of managerial experience with Derby County before taking on the Chelsea coaching role.

Whilst Lampard delivered clear thoughts during his time at Chelsea, delivering your thoughts with clarity, doesn’t necessarily mean you have quality thoughts. It also doesn’t mean you have the ability to apply these thoughts. Relying on your playing career experience as a coach is tantamount to relying on speaking English very slowly when you’re abroad in Brazil. Lampard was surrounded by managers who are fluent in coaching, which is what you would expect at the top end of the Premier league.

Maurizio Sarri does not have clarity with his English. What he lacks in this clarity, he makes up in his crystal clear command of his footballing philosophy and whilst Lampard excelled at communicating verbally with his subjects, he found it very difficult to establish a clear philosophy for his football. Case in point when he was asked “what is your philosophy?”, it would often be purposely dodged.  This was coupled with complaining that the product on the pitch didn’t match up with the ideals he was implementing. If England want better coaches, which path should we encourage? Which path seems to work more in terms of delivering top class coaches? 

Crafting a coaching philosophy is a lot like learning to speak a language fluently. Languages are about translating your thoughts to other people’s mind and coaching is about translating ideas effectively on the pitch.

Lampard has excellent verbal communication, he used it to talk his way into a job at Derby, to manage expectations at Chelsea (constantly providing context about challenges such as losing Eden Hazard, dealing with a transfer ban and integrating youth). He used his skills to convince the Chelsea board to heavily back him financially in the transfer window despite the financial implications of the COVID crisis and he also used his communication skills to convince highly sought after players to join his project. Lampard was very good at the talking side of the game. Imagine if he diligently spent time learning how to coach to accompany this. 

This is the first big issue regarding the lack of quality English managers. People often ask why Scotland or Northern Ireland are producing better coaches than England. There is a lack of reverence for the development journey needed to produce great coaches in England and this message echoes all the way down the footballing pyramid. Ex-footballers with little experience can get jobs as long as they were legends in their playing career. Scotland etc don’t have many legends, their managerial icons made their name through incrementally earning their names as a manager. That’s what Scottish managers will see as their way to the top.

Successful football players learn to speak the language of playing football fluently. England need to start rewarding the coaches that learn how to speak the language of coaching fluently.

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