Author: Keith Hackett
Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson is without doubt the greatest of all time and Sam Allardyce could have been regarded as one of the best if he had the chance to manage a top side, according to former FIFA referee Keith Hackett.
In his list of top 10 managers to have taken charge in the Premier League, Hackett also singles out Arsene Wenger, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly and, of course, the special one, Jose Mourinho.
1 – Sir Alex Ferguson
The sign of a good manager is the people who work around him and I think he always had a good team of coaches, trainers and sports scientists. They all helped the development of players and then of course I think his skill set was knowing when a player needed to go. Maybe once or twice he might reflect that he let a few players go too early but ultimately he always had Manchester United at heart and did a brilliant job. All managers have their own styles and when you look at Ferguson and you look at his record, it’s simply outstanding.
He was known for his reputation for always being unhappy with the timekeeping referees had during matches but I think ‘Fergie time’ was just folklore really. There were times when his team were winning and he’d question why they’re playing so much extra time and running to the touchline, to show everybody that he had a watch and the referee ought to take note. This was part of his make-up that we all sort of knew and smiled off in a friendly manner.
2 – Brian Clough
Brian Clough was the complete opposite to the likes of Jose Mourinho, in that he wouldn’t publicly criticise referees in any way shape or form and neither would he allow his players to dispute decisions. His players respected him and so he had a great professional relationship with them. So as a referee when you officiated at Nottingham Forest under Clough, they were without doubt the best team by way of on-field discipline. It was measurable at the time, there was a sense of enjoyment. They had one or two players who could dish it out, they had Larry Lloyd and Kenny Burns who were brought to task in terms of how they play and I think that was great credit to him. Clough would never criticise the referee, he may have offered post-match advice but in fairness from a personal point of view he was always extremely supportive of referees.
3 – Arsene Wenger
Wenger is one of the most passionate managers in the game and wants to play football correctly. In those early, informative years he didn’t want to go anywhere near or discuss – certainly with me as manager of PGMOL – refereeing matters. He would say his concentration was entirely on the team and not on refereeing. I can remember the first meeting I had with him, where we needed to discuss some of his players actions because I was trying desperately to reduce the average number of yellow cards issued in a game. Players like Thierry Henry were picking them up fairly quickly and the influence and discussion was that there is a way to approach referees, rather than that public sort of dissenting manner, that often a different approach would get a different response and I think that was then adopted. I then had a good relationship with him in terms of being able to discuss disciplinary issues from then after.
4 – Bill Shankly
You go back to the era of Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly, this was back in my early informative years, and whenever I refereed or came across those guys, they always treated me like a gentlemen, they were very respectful. Certainty I can recall in Shankly’s time, I was working in Workington the week before I met him and an hour before kick-off I was sitting in the players’ lounge, no players there, and so we sat there watching TV. Shankly then came in and I happened to mention I’d been at Workington the previous week. The first thing he asked was ‘How’s the tractor?’ I learnt from that, that he’d actually purchased for Workington – a former club that he managed – the tractor that was at the ground. So again it was good to learn the humility, he was a guy that would say little but when he said something it would certainly resonate with you, you could hear what he was saying.
5 – Bob Paisley
Paisley, who like Ferguson was a hugely successful manager, was another terrific guy. I had a couple of meetings with him at charity events and he was actually a very quiet and polite guy but was entrenched in football, his knowledge really was superb. I think then, these guys were managing players with perhaps closer ties to their communities, the pressures weren’t as high as they are in the game today.
6 – Jose Mourinho
Mourinho is an extremely intelligent manager and very clever in how he operates in certain situations. I think he’s careful about his public criticism of referees and the way he handles the media. When his team has played poorly he’ll always find a way to deflect the attention away from his team and protect them, using any form of tactic. I feel this is down to the modern day pressures of being a Premier League manager. I think that pressure has been severe and one of the things we did in my time as PGMOL general manager was to employ a sports psychologist. We gave our referees the appropriate level of training to be able to deal with pressure prior to and post-matches. Several of those referees would, in fact, discard comments and take no notice.
7 – Sam Allardyce
If you take someone like Sam Allardyce, people see his persona and have got no idea of the quality of his management. He is very scientific in his approach and sports science, the use of Prozone, sport psychology, they all come into his remit. Certainly when I first went to meet him in Bolton to discuss a decision by a referee, I was taken back by the conversations I had with him in his office. He recommended that I should introduce science into the remit, which was such an eye opener for me when I saw how he used it, he took time out to show me and I always held him in great respect for that. He’s an outstanding manager and I think his record proves it. He’s a great English manager, albeit he’s out of the game at the moment but with his quality and being an Englishman I hope he gets back into it. Allardyce has never been given the opportunity of officiating a big club, I think we’d all be surprised at the quality that he could produce.
8 – Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock has the reputation of being harsh on the touchline and certainly I can remember refereeing a game at Scarborough when he was managing there and I’d just done an international week in Europe. I was in Scarborough and I heard this call [from Neil] “Hackett stop posing, a FIFA badge doesn’t mean you’re a bloody good referee, get on with it!” Neil is someone again who is more thoughtful about the game than we take on board. If a referee didn’t perform well at the weekend, you could bet your life I would be receiving a DVD, showing me the errors where there was some conflict, and I’d shoot into Bramall Lane on the odd Monday and have a debate with him. It was always convivial, it was always a learning process. I think very few people are aware that he is actually a qualified referee. The outcome of that is that he has a very good understanding and raw knowledge, and also the ability to apply it. I think that adds to his overall credibility.
He’s very passionate and that’s to his great credit.
9 – Garry Monk
Having spoken with Garry Monk, he’s another manager that I like and I think is very impressive. He’s played the game and was a very good player, and not all players convert to managers. He seems to have got that knack of holding the respect of his players and bringing the very best out of them. It’s great our game has got his influence going forward. People underestimate how difficult it is to keep a squad of 25 motivated in training sessions that work on and off the field, to keep players disciplined and fresh, so to have that skill is commendable.
10- Tony Pulis
Tony Pulis has a style and a strict regime and I think he’s been very successful, his record shows this. Managing on a very small budget, managing through his own personality to bring top-class players in and get the best out of those top players, that’s great credit to him and his own individual personality. He’s a manager who has such a strong passion for the game and this is evident on the touchline. He’s performed brilliantly everywhere he has gone. For example, in recent years he did a tremendous job at Crystal Palace and now is doing so with West Bromwich Albion. He’s done exceptionally well in keeping both these teams in the Premier League.
Life as a modern day manager…
You’ve almost got to be a jack of all trades really, you’ve got to have an understanding of how the business operates in order to conduct yourself well at board meetings. With the vast amounts of money that a manager is handling in order to acquire players, it means they’re not able to be too much of a gambling man. They’ve got to bring someone in who is going to make a difference and be positive from the word go. Not easy.
Despite the high pressures managers have, I’ve never had a manager abuse me, none have ever shown me that level of disrespect. I think in the main if they were going to give you stick after the match, it was probably deserved but I never had disrespect from any of them. They operate in a very difficult environment.
Yes, it’s got benefits but it is now becoming more difficult than in the past. I think the expectation is from a spectator and from foreign owners is that these managers have got to come up with the goods and the goods mean you’ve got to win the league. Only one out of the 20 clubs can do that every year. Fortunately the compensation of what they earn makes life bearable for them.
I believe the image of managers and referees not getting along is obviously promoted with the fact the manager often just walks off the football field and wants to vent some of his frustrations. I do feel, however, that in the last couple of years they’ve been constrained and that might well be down to financial inducements to their organisation (the LMA), in order for them to bite their tongue and not be critical of some of the performances that we’ve witnessed over the last season.
I personally believe there was a drop in refereeing standards last year. I think the organisation, the PGMOL, missed the services of Howard Webb when he retired, and I don’t think they used Mark Clattenburg enough and as a consequence there were incidents last year that I would have thought would have brought more negative comments from the managers than they actually did. Generally speaking, referees got away with it fairly lightly last year.