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  • Writer's pictureMilton Ceita Da Costa

Duncan Ferguson & The Perils of Managing

Duncan Ferguson substituted Moise Kean less than 20 minutes after taking him out. By now, the football world knows the story.

Moise Kean a black Italian teenager (who has unsurprisingly but admirably faced racism and betrayal at the highest level of Italian football) recently bought by Everton, an every-man’s club from Juventus, anything but, for a significant amount of money failed to impress his interim manager and was substituted “to kill a bit of time,” said Ferguson (Sky Sports). Or because “he struggled to get into the game. He had not quite got into the pace of it,” Ferguson again (ESPN). Ferguson showed as much indecision in his post-match comments as in his in-game decisions.

This, however, is not meant to be a haranguing of Ferguson ; he has had plenty and fully well-deserved. He may have lost Kean forever and disturbingly so. He humiliated the young man in front of the entire world. That shows inexperience more than anything else. Or so we hope. There did not appear to be anything outright malicious or devious on the part of Ferguson. He brought on a player that he quite obviously did not fully trust and that distrust was confirmed when Kean did indeed struggle to perform. It must be pointed out that Kean was played through the middle and then on the right (the Greenwood goal changed things) which might not have helped out his acclimatization. Jamie Carragher (Sky Sports) also noted how in the span of moments, Kean ran— sprinted— an immense distance. He then, momentarily winded, lost the ball poorly and gave up a free kick (he had three fouls in those 19 minutes played). He did not play well. That is not up for debate. The effort was there but effort is not always enough. Kean could not keep possession and fouled too often. But he is 19 years old and has just moved to a foreign league in a foreign country after being the toast of Italy. No, this is not an attack on Ferguson, but a reminder : managers can be inexperienced as well.

Carragher said the decision was “not selfish” (Sky Sports). It was at the least narrow-minded. (Carragher’s explanation is also worth watching as he provides interesting analysis). Pundits, players, coaches and fans alike often speak of a manager’s past playing experience as being essential to a successful coaching career. The manager does not need to have been a talented player but having played they have a better understanding of what their current players are experiencing. That is true although too often non former players have that as a guillotine hanging over their heads as evidence for any potential issues that may arise. But if that is so important, should we not look at a coach who has never played in a foreign country ? A coach (which is different from a manager) who never left his homeland as a young man, a young footballer to live and play in a country that does not speak his native language or have many cultural reference points ? We should but we do not, particularly in the UK where they will crucify foreign players and tell the world how hard and great their league (and it is) is when so many of their players, for many legitimate reasons, have refused to ply their trade anywhere else.

No, Ferguson did not have a personal reference for Kean’s moment. That in itself is not a condemnation. Arrigo Sacchi (yes, that Arrigo Sacchi) never played at the highest level or even came close and he had an extraordinary amount of success. Ferguson has zero management or senior team head coaching experience. And that showed last Sunday at Old Trafford. But the same way Kean should have been given time and still should be given time to improve, so should Duncan Ferguson.


...his players have suffered from his indecisiveness and lack of preparation


The thought process during the game was understandable : the team needs success in the short-term. He was not concerned with the long-term. But that is where man management comes in, that is where coaching meets managing. It was particularly surprising from a youth coach, although Ferguson’s character makes it less shocking.

But he was not done.

Ferguson did it again today with Cenk Tosun in the 0-0 draw against Arsenal. It almost appeared as if Ferguson was trying to justify what he did six days before. Rather that, then as some may have suggested, trying to show the players that he was in charge. More concerning however, is that Ferguson makes a mistake in bringing on a player and then has to correct that decision by taking him off. There is no doubt ; a player will understandably feel insulted and embarrassed. Tosun came on to replace an injured Iwobi but Tosun, who has struggled in his time at Everton, was not the only option on the bench. Bernard, who has admittedly come off the boil this season, was a more straightforward swap. Tosun’s introduction forced Richarlison, one of Everton’s best players back over to the left. Maybe that was a part of the thought process. Or maybe Ferguson misanalyses a situation, makes a decision and attempts to correct it later but at the detriment of his players.

Everton has, undoubtedly, benefitted from his energy and his passion but his players have suffered from his indecisiveness and lack of preparation, bred from a lack of experience and maybe, still to be decided, a lack of ability. There are players in the squad he does not fully trust. That is something he cannot alter himself. However, he made the decision to give those players a chance to prove themselves but there are two main issues with that. Firstly, he is not giving them anywhere near enough time and secondly, he does not need to give them time. The argument that he was giving them a chance to impress is invalid when the amount of time they were given is taken into consideration.

Some will say the Kean decision was brave and there is some truth to that (although the subsequent decision to do the same to Tosun indicated regret and an attempt at justification). But despite Carragher’s comments there was indeed a touch of selfishness in the decision ; if Kean struggles in the next game, which he has, then Ferguson will be proven right. If he succeeds, supporters will say that his brand of tough love worked.

Inadvertently or not, he made it about himself. That is one area where he will need to develop as will his eventual coaching staff. We often judge just the manager but Klopp, Mourinho and Diego Simeone for instance all have elite coaching staffs. Potentially, a better coaching staff would have stopped the decisions, but again the situation was not ideal. This was not a staff hand-picked by Ferguson. Hopefully, in the future, if given the chance, he will learn from his mistakes and also choose a staff that will be willing to confront him when necessary.

In the end, we were reminded that managers are at times inexperienced and so they too can progress. Coaches can improve just as much as players.

Ferguson now needs to do this and perhaps he will be given the chance. Or perhaps he will be left hung out to dry as he did Kean and Tosun. He now has the chance, potentially, to learn with one of the great managers of the generation, Carlo Ancelotti. (However, if rumors of Zlatan Ibrahimović joining Ancelotti at Everton, unlikely though it may seem, prove true it may spell trouble for Ferguson but more on that if it happens). Ferguson has the drive, the fire and the ambition to become successful ; he has the effort. Now he needs to show he has the competence, the man-management skills, the adaptability and the organizational skills to be a successful coach and manager because effort is not always enough.

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