27 September 2017 – Sir Alex Ferguson, Clive Barker, Pep Guardiola, Gordon Igesund, Jose Mourinho – what makes such individuals stand out as coaches or managers? What separates these tactical and technical footballing geniuses from thousands of other coaches around the globe and results in them winning trophy after trophy and title after title? Is it x-factor, unparalleled footballing knowledge, raw talent, superior communication skills, pure genius, uncompromising command of their players or indeed a mixture of all of the above and perhaps even something more?

It is a topic or question that has plagued and intrigued football analysts and pundits for many a decade with no solid, definitive answer seeming possible. At the end of the day, all coaches are different by virtue of their individual personalities, where they are from, how they are trained, the type of coaches they had as players themselves, their own visions for success, among numerous other factors, thus making this a rather subjective subject. In this piece I attempt to offer the most common elements and variables that I believe have made the best coaches who they are and what they have achieved.

Communication and listening skills:

It goes without saying that communication is the key to any relationship. Be it husband and wife, student and teacher or coach and player, this aspect is arguably the most vital. Getting the message across to a player in the correct manner is key. Making a player aware of what it is you expect of him/her is even more vital and getting a player’s buy-in is utmost important if victory is to be achieved. Poor communication could result in utter chaos with players simply ending up doing their own thing.

Listening is also really important. Taking feedback and concerns from your players and assuring them, is fundamental in forming a healthy relationship. In this way, they will also take your concerns and feedback seriously as well.

Patience and perseverance:

Having patience with your players and persevering with them, especially at the beginning, is a crucial factor. Not all players will adapt immediately to your style, personality, strategies and vision but having trust and faith that they will and assuring them of this, is sure to guarantee their trust and faith as well. This is sport, this is football – nothing is truly won overnight and it will take a few games, sometimes seasons (if you lucky to survive that long) to get things to your liking and get a team playing the way you want them to.


Not all coaches possess such a trait but if you do, you already have an edge on your competitors and rivals. So what is x-factor really? It could simply be defined as a ‘noteworthy or extra-special talent’. Such individuals can only utilise this to their advantage such as a Jose Mourinho. He doesn’t have to try too hard as he already has something special about him (hence the name ‘The Special One’). It is something that you are probably born with (natural talent) so if you are lucky enough to have it then you are already on the road to success. Such a person instinctively knows what to do, when to do it and how to do it . . . in this case, win football matches and titles.

Striking the perfect balance between ‘pal and dictator’:

We have seen time and again how certain coaches can rub players the wrong way by being too dictatorial (where you ‘lose the dressing room’). We have also seen how being too friendly with your players can also backfire. The key here is striking the perfect balance and knowing exactly when to be which. Your team is losing 3-0 at half time, playing poorly and making silly mistakes – time for the good old ‘hair-dryer treatment’. Your player comes to you with a personal matter and needs time off – time to be a buddy and offer advice while assuring him/her all will be fine and ensure his/her well-being.  Man-management is extremely important, especially when ‘dropping’ a player.


A great coach naturally has vision. He/she knows what they want to achieve and how to get there (which players to select/buy; which assistants to hire; how much money it is going to cost).


A coach needs to portray true leadership qualities. He needs to be a role model to his/her players. Dress suitably; arrive on time (punctuality), have supreme social skills and most importantly show respect to his/her players no matter what. Teaching players about general life skills and sharing personal experiences of hardship and success is also relevant here.

Another aspect that comes in to play here is sportsmanship – accepting defeat, being humble and congratulating your opponent after a match is very important and also earns one the respect of players, rivals and peers. Allowing journalists and media the time of day is also an important cog in the ‘leadership’ wheel as well.

Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses:

By knowing and learning your very own strengths and weaknesses, you can adjust as a coach and most importantly improve. If you were to realize for example that you are normally too strict, you can change via this simple awareness tool and practice on striking the required balance. If you know that you lack certain tactical knowledge then you can request help from your body or organization in order to get better. If you know which one of your strengths has worked wonders in the past then stick to this and make sure your players buy into it too.

Passion and positivity:

Nothing was ever won without passion and positivity. Without both of these you as a coach are lacking vital ingredients without which, you are living on a wing and a prayer. Talent, skill, tactics and fitness can only get you so far. Being passionate about a match, title or competition is a natural motivator and being positive is also key especially when things are going wring (either during a match or in the middle of a season). Inculcating both of these into your squad will go a long way to ensuring sustained success.

Football knowledge (Tactical and technical know-how):

Having all the soft skills in the world is useless if you actually don’t possess actual footballing acumen and know-how (on football basics, fitness/conditioning, technique, transfer policies, tactics, laws, analysis and much more). Tactical and technical aspects are non-negotiable skills that every coach must possess. This is the only way for forming strategies and methods for outsmarting and beating your opponents. How else can you mentor your players and be a good teacher while also getting them to work on aspects they need to improve on as well. Demonstrating a point is far better than orally explaining it. Taking certain courses/workshops, meeting with legendary football coaches or simply learning on your own (research, videos) will go a long way to improving your own personal knowledge.


A coach simply has to be flexible and needs to refrain from being a rigid thinker if he/she wishes to be successful in football. Stuck in thinking that 4-4-2 formation will always work when the situation calls for a 4-3-2-1, is asking for trouble. A ‘horse-for-courses’ approach is advisable in modern-day football.

The same principles apply for any sports coach really. It is fairly safe to say that if a coach possesses all or most of the above-mentioned attributes then he/she is well on their way to becoming a really great coach and is virtually bound for success.

By: Dhirshan Gobind