In this debate MADRIDISTA FIRMER tries to make a case for why managers are to blame when a team loses a football game whilst STA FA looks at why players are to blame in case a team loses a game. Read on….

appiah and gyan


In my candid opinion, I think the football manager’s job is a bit underrated; a Herculean task, not the most enviable job in the world. Joy, glory and trophies are mostly attributed to the players; pain, ignominy and inability to win trophies, the manager is to blame. To say that a manager’s responsibility is SOLELY on the pitch is a myopic view. His role encompasses a number of areas including psyche, technical, tactical and personal relationship with the players and other technical staff. Therefore, the factors that lead to a team winning or losing a game should be evaluated in a holistic manner.

First and foremost, it is said that football games are won from the bench. A manager’s meticulous decision to wisely use substitutes in order to influence the results of a game cannot be overestimated. A typical example readily comes to mind; Sir Alex Ferguson’s crucial use of substitutes during the 1999 Champions League final game against Bayern Munich. Manchester United were set to lose the 1999 Champions League final against German opposition, Bayern. Mario Basler had given the Germans an early lead via a freekick goal and was coasting to glory until one moment of brilliance from Sir Alex punctured Bavarian pride. The legendary gaffer brought on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham and those two forwards scored two quick but late goals that broke Bayern hearts. United won the game and completed an historic treble.  Former England and United striker Sheringham said: “The instructions from the boss when he sent me on were simple – get us back in the game. One of Sir Alex’s biggest strengths as a manager was his decision making during a game. He trusted all of his players and we all knew that even if we didn’t start a match, we could be called on to do a job. We may have left it late, but it is a night that I and millions of United fans will never forget.” But for those changes, United would have lost the game, and Fergie would have been blamed. A brilliant manager influences games from the bench and so if the team loses, then it’s the manager’s fault.

Pedro Leon

During a football game, a manager’s tactical tweaks are also important. How a team protects a lead, formation change when necessary and also player selection are all co-ordinated and supervised by the manager. You will agree with me that these are key areas in the game of football. The manager’s ability to read and predict the opposition manager’s tactics and counter-act him is always the difference between winning and losing a game. The manager is responsible for naming the match day squad, starting 11 and explaining the tactical plan to the players. If a player is tactically inept, the manager has the right to exclude him from his game plan. Remember the infamous “Pedro Leon y Mourinho” incident circa 2010? Real Madrid was playing Levante and at half time, the score line was still barren. Mou had to act fast so he threw in Pedro Leon, a decision the Portuguese gaffer will later regret. Mou was incensed by Pedro Leon’s total apathy and passivity towards tactical instructions. Madrid drew that game, and Mourinho wielded the axe; Leon was banished from the first team and will go on to play just a handful of games for the rest of the season and his strained relationship with Mou reached higher heights later on. That is man management, and that is how a good manager should act. If Leon had largely featured in other Madrid games, he might have caused the team to drop more points and Mourinho would have been sacked earlier than he actually was.

And then there is also the psychological aspect of the game where a player’s performance can be enhanced by a manager’s “team talk”/half time talk. Staying with the 1999 Champions League final, this is what Sir Alex Ferguson said during the half time team talk: “At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.” We all know the ramifications of this talk, combined with his demonstration of high grade tactical aptitude later on in that game. A manager should be able to influence games by psyching his players up. Have you heard of the so called “mind games” in the English Premier League? This same old wily Sir Alex Ferguson as well as his counter part Jose Mourinho epitomised this between 2005 and 2007. The game can be won or lost even before the players trot out onto the pitch! That’s the psychological advantage that manager’s sometimes bank on!! And then there is also this small matter involving Fernando Torres. He used to be called El Nino, but now widely referred to as Chelsea’s -50 million- pound- mistake. Torres was a goal scoring machine during his Liverpool days under the fat Spanish waiter, Rafael Benitez.  And then he joined Chelsea, where his misery begun. A paltry return of goals during his first few months coupled with poor overall performance became a recurring theme. He was ridiculed and reduced to a mere forward who was shy of scoring. Then enter, Rafael Benitez. Fernando Torres found his scoring boots once again when he was reunited with his former boss. Benitez gave Torres the chance, motivated him and psyched him up. There’s some kind of psychology at play here. Right?  And oh, about that 2013 Europa Cup triumph for Chelsea, it was MAINLY due to Rafael Benitez’s brilliance and tactical nous. First, he gave Fernando Torres a starting berth. F. Torres will go on to score the first goal of the cup final game, taking his total tally to 6 goals in the Europa League. The importance of scoring the opening goal in a cup final game cannot be overestimated. This extract from The Times newspaper further accentuates the reason why Benitez was the main architect behind Chelsea’s cup glory: Defender David Luiz credited Benitez with making critical changes at half time, saying, “He changed some of our positions in the second half. That’s why we played better and won the title. He spoke a lot to us to change the intensity.” On the winning goal scored by Ivanovic, Juan Mata said, “Rafa told us we had to aim to the far post, because it was Artur’s (Benfica goalkeeper) weakest place. I just tried to put the ball there and Ivanovic did the rest”.

Sammy Kufuor

Okay, so this Cup final game between Team A and Team B ends 0-0, it’s penalty shoot-out time. Team A loses out on the penalty shoot-out 3-1 to Team B. The manager and not the players of Team A should be blamed. Why? The result of the penalty shoot outs shows that the manager of Team A poorly prepared his team for the shoot outs. Team A did not have enough players with the ability to score penalties, and that’s the manager’s fault. And who selected those five players to take those penalties?

In compendium, the football manager can be likened to a puppet master and the players are the puppets. The puppet master controls the puppets by instructing and directing them. If the puppets put up a good performance, the puppet master is soaked in glory and the crowd (spectators) are thrilled. If the performance is poor, ignominy awaits the master.  So the next time you see a manager walking up and down the field tirelessly, bellowing instructions to his players, remember that if the team loses the game, it is entirely his fault, and rightly so. If at this stage, you’re not convinced that managers are to blame if a team loses a game, then it will also be difficult to talk you out of the fact that pigs cannot fly.


Commentator: ‘We are in the last minute of time added on.  Ball now with the agile winger, he beats one takes on the second. He sends a racking through ball to the main striker. OMG, he nutmegs his marker and is one-on-one with the keeper. This could be the last kick of the day. He has to score, he must score. I can’t believe it, I must be dreaming. He sends the ball wide’.  Fast forward three days, coach is sacked under the veil of “mutual consent”. The scenario described might be hypothetical, but deep inside you can recall a match were a player jeopardizes the chances of victory for his team, whether it’s through scoring an own goal, a completely unnecessary red card, blasting a penalty aka “ramosing” it or simply missing the simplest sitters that “our grandmothers would have scored”.

Let me clear this idea that the manager is responsible for everything, whether it is psyche, training fitness, quick recovery of a player, accuracy of a striker, team attitude. It is these spurious assertions that create confusion in the footballing world. If such public outcries were true or to be accepted at any level, then the coaching team would obviously be a one man job. Teams employ fitness trainers, masseuse, team doctors, assistant coach, team scouts (scouts opponents) , equipment managers, goalkeeper trainer some teams like Exeter city even had Psychic (Uri Geller­). Brendan Rodgers employed a cycling psychologist why not do it himself and save money? Ghana Black Stars and their history of translators come to mind. What is truly myopic is to think that football is still in the times where every role is performed by the manager.

Well, to compare a puppet to a footballer is rather nearsighted. Yet,  I am ever ready to accept such an assumption if you can point me in the direction of a puppet that talks back to his puppeteer, or one that’s angry when subbed or one that’s totally independent of others. The reason why we can never compare a manager to a puppeteer or a footballer to a puppet is because whiles a puppet can’t think for itself and make decisions, a fully-fledged man can. Pinocchio is a classic example of a humble, respectful, immobile puppet but we all know how it ends.

The debauched mind would comprehend these instances as analogous to an army general who sends his men to war, in actuality a leader, any leader is only as good as his followers. If you move to concentrate on tactics developed by coaches as approaches to all matches in generality or specific matches then you can grasp the seeming disparity between the ideal situation and its execution. What we mostly see on our screens is the execution part. No matter how great a team’s tactics is if they execute poorly then defeat is ‘a hello away’. A coach brings to the fore what needs to be done to win; the players are responsible for the ‘what was actually done’. Not tracking run of opponents, ball watching, complacency, high turnover rate these are game upshots that are totally ascribed to the players.


The truth is, to a large degree defeat is associated with the leaders’ failure whiles victory is for all. That is the way of man and that is neither fair nor just. This piece is in no way trying to assuage the coach from error or blame but the real life case is that no matter how good coaches do their job, their players are the ultimate determinants of how the game puns out. This is not exclusive to football but to all sports.

When a player scores one own goal? Chalk it down to bad lack. Two own goals? Let’s take him to the guillotine. Jamie Carragher on 11 September 1999 managed this feat against rivals Manchester United. Jon Walters of Stoke city is also infamous for scoring two own goals, miss a penalty kick and volleyed the ball into his own face against Chelsea, they lost 4-0. Special mentions to Stan Van Den Buys, whiles playing for Germinal Ekeren against Anderlecht scored three own goals. His team went ahead to lose 4-2.

Ever heard of Jonathan Woodgate? On his debut for Real Madrid he scored an own goal and later received a red card in the very match. He scored another own goal two matches after that.

John Mensah. I won’t explain, I won’t tell you when it happened but you all understand it.

Victor Valdes, which of his thousand examples do you want? Is it his attempt to dribble Di Maria? Or is it his billion other howlers?

Pepe’s shambolic performance against Lewandowski comes to mind. He did nothing right the whole night. In fact, he was more instrumental in the prolific polish’s output that night than the assists he received.

He bit, he is biting, he will bite (hope otherwise). Suarez has all kinds of attributes ranging from his vision, dribbling to his knack of scoring unforgettable goals. But it’s his unsporting behavior that will make headlines. It is unfair for the coach’s good reputation be gnawed saddled by such things.

Maicon against Gareth Bale or was it Bale against Maicon. I have a feeling Ghallywood produced a movie titled: The death of Maicon’s career Part 1 and 2.

The faithful afternoon in august 2011, Arsenal’s defense decided to suddenly treat spectators to a bout of football comedy.

Who can forget the Manchester derby? The one where Rio shocked not only his manager but his manager’s chewing gum.

Roberto Baggio’s name will forever be engraved in footballing lore. Not because of his glorious ponytail, but for that penalty kick which gave Brazil their fourth world cup. Do you know who the Italian coach was? Exactly, Baggio’s name was synonymous to their failure not the coach.

It will be unfair of me to remind you of Asamoah Gyan when the country is basking in the air of democratic tolerance post-election verdict. I promise I can go on and on but it will be very difficult to prove it’s a two paged article.

This article applies solely to a single match dynamics. Its purpose is not to explain why a team loss a championship (refer to the title for clarification). So when others purport arguments around the role of the coach in transfer market then that is the cue for deviation. Just close your eyes and imagine your favorite team’s most recent match they lost in and why they lost. I reiterate that it will be foolish to try to suggest that all defeats are at the door steps of the players. All I seek to say however that is the players essentially are the determinants of victory or defeat.

In the end who is to blame? Jamie Foxx opines it’s all on the alcohol, Akon however tells us to put the blame on him. Shaggy says it wasn’t him. Me? I say blame the players on the pitch.

What do you think? Who is to blame if a team loses a football game? The manager or the players??

Rafael Benitez Chelsea


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