Frank Clark talks to WSC about his new book, Kicked Into Touch, which charts the ups and downs of more than a decade in football management

You had some uncomfortable experiences as a manager. If you were a player now, would you still want to become a manager?
Yes, for two reasons. As a player I knew I wanted to stay in the game when I stopped because I loved being involved. I’d feel the same today. The other factor, of course, is the amount of money you can earn. There’s no question that the job has got much harder, for various reasons: Bosman, the sums of money involved, Sky. The spotlight has become that much more intense. The other side of the coin is that managers are being paid wages at least on a par with some of the players.

The League Managers’ Association has supported the idea that managers should have more formal qualifications. Does that really help them do a better job?
I don’t want managers to get jobs just because they’ve been players. I’m not saying that waving a piece of paper automatically makes someone a good coach but I genuinely believe that training helps. Of course some managers are naturals. I don’t think Brian Clough would be any better if he’d been on 35 management courses, but he’s an exception. Better training and continual education will make for better coaches.

So you’d be in favour of clubs employing a general manager to do the business side and a team manager?
John Barnwell [chief executive of the LMA] and I both feel football should be going along those lines. The business is so diverse and complicated now that to expect one man to do everything is ludicrous. We’re voices in the wilderness, though, because I don’t see it happening in many places. David Pleat at Spurs is the only one in Premier League at the moment, Stoke just appointed John Rudge to what I assume is a similar position, and Phil Taylor has been doing it at Walsall for number of years, but they are exceptions.

It can also bring its own problems though, as Ray Wilkins and Kevin Keegan found out at Fulham.
It’s important that the general manager is not itching to be a team manager. The whole idea is to protect the guy who’s running the team by acting as a buffer between him and the board, and the press, and to give him feedback about what’s happening with the youth teams and so on. But he should be appointed by the club, and his position should not be affected by team managers leaving. I did something like that at Leyton Orient, though I was managing director at the time, when Peter Eustace was in charge of the team. Peter decided who came and who went. I tried to make those signings and to sell whoever he didn’t want within an agreed budget , and I did all the contracts. I never interfered in team affairs. The days of the manager being a dictator who controlled everything at a club have gone. It can still happen at lower division level, but not higher up.

These changing roles don’t seem to have helped create any sort of career structure for managers. The way they are trained and recruited is still very haphazard...
When I was still a player I used to get angry at how the game seemed to discard know­ledge and ideas. When I was first in management at Orient, there was Bill Nicholson being cast aside by Spurs after he’d been the best manager they’d ever had. He’s since been brought back into the club but it happens over and over again. Now it’s personal, because I’ve been out of full-time work for a year and a half and I’ve not exactly been deluged with offers. I can only assume they either don’t rate me or really don’t see a need for someone with a football background. I used to meet all these people on FA coaching courses who had been all over the world but were hardly know here at all, like George Smith, who’s now working for Leeds. I brought him in to work with the young players at Man City and he was reborn. Before that he’d been fretting his life away, he couldn’t go abroad again because he’d had heart attacks and was killing himself with frustration. We need experienced coaches like that at all the academies.

Is there more pressure on a manager at a smaller club like Orient where you know everyone involved, or somewhere like Man City where there are thousands more fans but different expectations?
Orient was the hardest job simply because of lack of money until the last few years when Tony Wood, who’d made a fortune in the coffee business, took over. I mention in the book that I was once told to raise 15 grand in four weeks to stop the club going out of business. It seem like a small amount today but it put us under huge pressure at the time. When Tony Wood became chairman, he lifted the financial worries and we were able to set up the football in the community scheme, which was quite revolutionary at the time – there were only two others and the PFA weren’t involved back then. It only cost seven and half thousand and now it’s a huge success.

You mention that no manager can expect to suceed when there’s disunity at boardrom level and Man City seems to bear that out.
Francis (Lee) assured me that the troubles had been sorted out, but in fact they were all on the back burner. I did OK at first and everything seemed fine, but in the final few months it all came to the surface again. The biggest problem there was people on the periphery of the club – not Francis – people who’d been on the board then kicked out but still hanging around. One faction brought Dennis Tueart in to look after their interests and report back to them and generally I felt undermined. The players will begin to lose confidence in a manager when they feel he’s lost confidence in himself.

If you pick one thing that would help to improve the manager’s job now, what would it be?
One thing that the League Managers’ Association has been working on lately is making sure that managers get what they’re due when they’re sacked. We accept that there is always going to be hiring and firing, that’s the sort of profession we’re in, but the LMA has been looking to improve the process by which a manager gets paid up, so now there’s an arbitration procedure to work out how much compensation he’ll get. Drawn out haggling over money doesn’t do the clubs or the game in general any good. Something else I become aware of, that’s close to home, is that when Pierre van Hooijdonk left Forest he got the unapid amount of his signing-on fee, which is usually spread through the length of a contract, paid off in full. Now if ever a player didn’t deserve that, it would have to be Pierre. The club did all they could to punish him when he went on strike, continually fining him two weeks wages, so he lost a few months’ pay. A year later, though, when he made it plain that he was going to go, he surely shouldn’t have been entitled to the balance of his signing-on fee. I think that’s really rubbing supporters noses in it and I can’t believe the PFA would have been happy either. When players refuse to play, they shouldn’t be able to claim big pay-offs. And especially given that in this case he’s earned so much that it’s not going to make a big difference to him anyway.

You say in the book that the majority of players are of similar ability but the top players are tougher mentally. Confidence seems to play a huge part in football, so does a manager need to know as much about psychology as he does about coaching?
Football is slowly accepting the need for specialists – fitness trainers, dieticians and so on, and I’d include psychologists among them. A good example of what can be done is at Derby County. In the last three years, and I say this with all respect to them, they are the Premier League team where the whole has been much more than the sum of the parts. The reason is that they’ve employed a sports psychologist, John Beswick, who’s been very succesful. The interesting thing there is that Jim Smith, who you could see as a traditionalist manager, has shown great insight to bring one of these specialists in.

Has it made the manager’s job harder now that players and their agents use the media and are used by it to such an extent?
It says in the contract that they’re meant to speak to the press in a responsible manner and no one would want to deny them that. But it’s very difficult now to draw the line between what’s responsible and what isn’t. If players have another avenue, if they’re on TV a lot, they become less dependent on the game for their income, they’re bound to be less focused. Some players can cope with the extra distractions but some can’t and they can easily lose their edge on the pitch as a result.

Would Stan Collymore be an example of a player who hasn’t coped?
I don’t think that his problems are a product of Nineties football. There have been lots of players in past times who moved around a lot but the stories are magnified now because of the money they move for and because the media spotlight is so intense. With Stan, it’s a quirk of his personality that he always thinks that where he was previously was always better. At Forest he wanted to be back at Southend, and I’d say to him ‘you’re in the Premier League now, you’re earning God knows how much money’, but he wasn’t happy. At Liverpool he was talking about how much better things were at Forest.

How can a manager approach someone as idiosyncratic as that?
It’s very difficult to change people. You might control them for a while but they don’t really change. Take John Robertson. When I first came to Forest he was a nobody at the club, kept bad company, wasn’t going anywhere. Basically he’s the same bloke now as he was in 1975. What changed for him was that he worked for someone who gave him something to aim at, who said ‘I know you can’t do this and you can’t do that but you are good when you get the ball, so just go out and keep getting it’.

Do you think there was a time when skilful players were undervalued generally? A myth has built up around some 1970s players – Alan Hudson, Charlie George etc – who it is said didn’t have the international careers they deserved because they were mistrusted for being too clever...
No, that’s always been rubbish. I don’t blame the individuals involved because the media has said it for them and it’s been set it in stone. I think it’s marvellous that they can earn a living doing things like after dinner speaking. I’ve seen Frank Worthington and Duncan McKenzie and they’re very good at what they do. But they didn’t have that desire to win. Without that you might have a career where you get a cup medal, but you’ll never achieve what you should have done. I spoke to Arsène Wenger recently and he was saying that when he first came to Arsenal, and he couldn’t have known this before he came, that he was amazed at the fantastic will to win that those defenders had. They’re still doing it now, week in, week out, into their mid 30s. It is about winning, and not about enjoyment when you’re playing. When I was a young player I went up to talk to Jackie Charlton once during a stoppage in play, thinking we’re both Geordies and all that, and he just looked at me said: “Piss off.” All that ‘going out with a smile on your face’ is nonsense, I’m afraid.

You played for two English teams who won European trophies, Newcastle in the 1960s and then Forest in the 1970s. Did it seem at the time that physical strength and fitness made the difference, because this seems to be an area where European teams have caught up, and overtaken, British clubs?
Not exactly. At Newcastle, it was more that we played very direct football. Nowadays a lot of people think that approach was invented by Graham Taylor, but it began a long, long time before that. We had big Wyn Davies who was good in the air, two wingers, two midfielders who weren’t the best passers but got the ball forward very early. At that time, European teams didn’t come across that and found it very difficult to cope with. Plus we were lucky in the way we’d qualified for the Fairs Cup in the first place, so we had a very relaxed atitude. With Forest we just seemed to be a be­tter team than those we played against. Brian knew about tac­tics but rarely changed the way we played to deal with the opposition. We never used to talk about opponents. In training sessions we’d do a lot of warming up and play five a sides and have shooting practice. Brian would tell John Robertson to keep getting the ball, and the centre halves were expected to get up at corners and head it in.  

Has European football improved in relation to the British game because the players seem more receptive to ideas about how to develop themselves? Foreign players based here often seem surprised by the things they see...
It’s down to culture and education. Hopefully, with the academies, we’ll get them early enough to educate them to look after their bodies. It’s very difficult to take people out of their culture, though. If you’re a young lad in England, you go out and drink with a group of your mates and you want to fit in. On the other side, a lot more Continental players smoke – the last British player I worked with who smoked was John O’Hare at Forest 20 years ago.

Foreign managers have been successful here without bringing on many English players. Does that worry you?
It has severe implications for the future of the English game and the England team. Whatever Mr Mel­lor and his like might say about the standard of the Prem­ier League, it can’t be good when the top three teams might only have one or two English players. It’s not Arsène Wenger or Gianluca Vialli’s job to concern themselves with long term benefits. Their job is to make their club successful. Their directors and their supporters won’t look kindly if Arsenal fail because they’re trying to build a team for five years time. It’s no concidence that England, Spain and Italy have come nowhere near winning anything at international level in recent years and they’re the countries with the most foreign players. The football authorities across Europe must lobby politicians to say ‘look, this is just not right, freedom of movement is causing huge problems’. Nothing can be done voluntarily, though. If clubs had a general agreement to go back to the three foreigners rule, that wouldn’t last six months because someone will always break it.

Isn’t it also the case that there simply aren’t as many good English players around as there were ten years ago?
No doubt about it, but if Jody Morris and Stephen Hughes were playing regularly I think they’d both be in contention to be England players. But while lower division clubs ask ludicrous prices for English players then clubs will go abroad. Until academies start producing better young players that will carry on. I’ve had arguments many times with Football League chairmen who bemoan the fact that clubs won’t buy their players, that they’ll sign an overseas player instead. I say to them it’s not a Premier manager’s job to be a benefactor to them. If they can buy a proven international for half the price they’ve been asked for a young English striker, they’ll go abroad. And it’s no good blaming the players. If someone offers you 40 grand a week you’d take it. It might take a collapse of a club to get something done. There are a lot of frightened people at Palace, for example. If they’re still in administration by the end of this month they’re out. If they go down, the shock waves will reverberate around.

Frank Clark – Kicking with Both Feet Headline £16.99

From WSC 151 September 1999. What was happening this month

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