“It has been said,” Winston Churchill once told Parliament, “That democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Political science is one of the few subjects Nigel Adkins has yet to raise during his pre and post match press conference but, as Conor Sammon reveals on these pages, the Sheffield United manager is happy for the people to have their say. Or, to be completely accurate, contribute to the debate surrounding tactical blueprints and preparation.
Adkins has spoken at length about the theories behind his decision to establish a leadership group at Bramall Lane comprising of coaching staff, senior players and representatives of the first team’s junior ranks. A marked departure from the more autocratic methods employed by many of the 50-year-old’s recent predecessors, it is probably also an anathema for many of his counterparts in League One competition who believe footballers should be seen but, barking orders and b********g opponents apart, not heard.
Dictatorships might have worked during the days when folk automatically doffed their cap to anyone in authority but, for better or worse, society as a whole and the game has changed. Adkins’ decision to tax the brains of his squad as well as their bodies should only enhance its prospects of achieving promotion and, further afield, exposes a flaw in traditional British coaching methods.
Why? Well consider this: How many times have you heard a manager describe how their charges must be capable of making quick, well-reasoned calculations during games? The answer, I’ll wager, is plenty. Yet, the more complex football gets, the more science and psychology’s influence grows, the less it encourages them to do exactly that. The modern player is, to all intents and purposes, mollycoddled. Agents take care of their business affairs, chefs cook their meals and liaison officers organise pre-season tours and travel arrangements. Only rarely, professionally at least, are they forced to think for themselves despite, for the most part, being pretty intelligent and articulate fellows.
Adkins, as both he and Sammon confirm, will always have the final say on sporting matters. But the mind also needs exercising. And these brain-storming sessions allow everyone to make an emotional investment in the club’s destiny. Pretty crucial, I’d have thought, when it comes to forging strong bonds behind the scenes.