Could the help of an assistant manager benefit Garry Monk?

When Garry Monk arrived in the summer it didn’t go unnoticed that his assistant in his previous two positions, Pep Clotet, would not be joining him. Quite a few fans have made an argument that Monk is significantly less effective on his own. Leeds fans have been quick to imply that Clotet, who was very popular with Leeds fans, was the real brains behind Leeds last season.

I was unconvinced by this argument initially. It looked to me that Clotet’s popularity in South Yorkshire was largely down to social media cheer-leading (Clotet has far better grasp of fan interaction than Monk). But Clotet is clearly a very talented coach. He is currently leading Oxford United on a push towards League 1 promotion, and seems to be doing a fine job of carrying on Michael Appleton’s work there.

I also don’t think Clotet’s social media presence at Leeds can be underestimated either. Monk’s interaction with fans has been criticised severely. An assistant is an extension of a manager, and at Leeds Clotet helped foster a positive relationship between the management team and the fans. Monk is definitely missing this in Teesside.

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Monk came to Boro with a reputation for being a hands-on manager. While manager at Swansea, Monk gave an interview for Michael Calvin’s excellent book on football management “Living On The Volcano” where he explained how extremely thorough and directly involved he is with training. Players were given iPads with mission statements and technical info. Training sessions were videoed and reviewed. Monk wore a recorded microphone so he could listen back to how he conducted the day’s session.

I do wonder, however, whether being so directly involved can potentially be counter-productive. In 1978, Sir Alex Ferguson joined Aberdeen – and at the time he was a very hands-on manager, conducting every facet of training himself. In an interview a few years ago with the Harvard Business Review, Ferguson described how he had a conversation with his assistant one day.

His assistant told Ferguson, “I don’t do anything. I work with the youth team, but I’m here to assist you with the training and with picking the team. That’s the assistant manager’s job.” He said Ferguson could benefit by not running training sessions. Ferguson was reluctant initially. “First I said, “No, no, no.” But I thought it over for a few days and then said, “I’ll give it a try. No promises.” Deep down I knew he was right. So I delegated the training to him, and it was the best thing I ever did.”

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For the rest of his management career Ferguson delegated training to his assistant and he observed from a distance. His presence and influence during training was still absolute, but by trusting his assistant with the routine work of coaching, it allowed him to see his team with extra lucidity. “Once I stepped out of the bubble, I became more aware of a range of details, and my performance level jumped.”

With the way that Middlesbrough have played this year I wonder if Monk has failed to step out of that ‘bubble’ and see a larger picture. It would explain the uncertainties in performances, the constant changes in tactics and line-ups. It would perhaps explain how he has been unable to work out how to utilise promising talents like Ashley Fletcher and Lewis Baker.

Anthony Vickers wrote recently in the Gazette about how Monk was slow to come to certain decisions that had appeared obvious to fans for weeks, namely the inclusion of Bamford and Leadbitter in the starting line-up. Had Monk taken a more observant role in training would these decisions have been realised sooner? After the disappointing display at Millwall it would not be surprise to see more changes in the line-up and approach to the match this weekend, particularly with Rudy Gestede and Adam Clayton having promising performances for the U23’s midweek.

The flip side to Ferguson’s style of management would be Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is notorious for living, sleeping, breathing football management. He is intimately involved in training, having daily 1-on-1 talks with his players. You’d need 25 hours in a day to be more hands-on than Pep. But he has had the same assistant, Domenec Torrent, with him since his Barca B days. They both famously study and work independently throughout the week, before meeting together to discuss and share ideas about the match ahead.

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Torrent has been a huge figure in helping Guardiola achieve his success. It was Torrent who had the idea of moving Philip Lahm from fullback to midfield at Bayern, a decision which totally transformed the team “All the pieces fell together with that decision,” Guardiola said of the move. “If we win anything, it’s because of that.” By having an assistant working separately in tangent it gave Guardiola fresh perspectives on the team that he may have missed while he was involved with his day-to-day training. This is another way in which an assistant could benefit Monk.

Obviously I have no idea how the backroom staff at Middlesbrough operate. This is all pure speculation, and Monk has two First Team coaches in Dave Adams and James Beattie, so he’s clearly not working alone. And maybe comparing Monk to two of the greatest managers in history is a waste of time. But if Steve Gibson is reluctant to pull the trigger and fire Monk, bringing in an experienced assistant might be an option that could be explored.

I don’t think anyone can deny that so far during his tenure at Middlesbrough Garry Monk has been unable to find clarity in how he wants his team to perform. As Ferguson said, “The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.” The addition of an assistant could be the key to Monk realising that vision that so far he has failed to see.


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