The tyranny of dressing room fatigue

In his excellent biography of Pep Guardiola, Guillem Balagué devotes his first chapter to the reasons why Guardiola left Barcelona after winning 14 trophies in four season at the club.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola has taken charge at some of Europe's biggest clubs. Source: Getty Images

Balagué writes: Pep Guardiola rang one of the world game’s leading managers [Sir Alex Ferguson] to ask him one question. If you get to a situation where the balance seems broken, what do you do?

Do you go or do you change the players? He was given the answer that he perhaps didn’t want to hear: you change the players.

That’s what Sir Alex Ferguson has always done, but clearly the United manager feels less beholden to his footballers, both morally and emotionally than Pep, who invested an awful lot of personal feeling into his first experience as a manager.


At the time, following the 2011-2012 season, Guardiola was grappling with what I call ‘dressing room fatigue’.

It is a time when, no matter how successful the team has been, and even if you have the finest set of players on the planet, the rot sets in.

It renders true what the great Benfica coach of the 1960s, Béla Guttman, referred to when he said: ‘The third year is fatal’.

Guttmann was making the observation that after the second year, no matter what successes have been achieved, it’s time for the coach to move on. Or change the players.

In the book Ballagué quotes Guardiola as the great coach finally came to his decision. ‘In order to be in a great institution for four years, you must have a lot of courage. The players get tired of you and you get tired of the players; the press gets tired of you and you get tired of the press, seeing the same faces, the same questions, the same things. In the end you must know when the time comes, in the same way that I understood that when I was a player and said, “Look, it’s time for me to leave”.’

This truism applies to all professional club coaches everywhere, including the A-League. If you accept this you will know where troubles may be looming. This is the list of A-League coaches and how long they have been at their clubs.

Melbourne Victory - Kevin Muscat: 2 years
Melbourne City - John Van’t Schip: 2 years
Sydney FC - Graham Arnold: 2 years
Wester Sydney Wanderers - Tony Popovic: 3 years
Brisbane Roar - John Aloisi: 1 year
Newcastle Jets - Position vacant
Central Coast - Paul Okon: Newly appointed
Adelaide United - Guillermo Amor: 1 year
Perth Glory - Kenny Lowe: 3 years
Wellington Phoenix - Ernie Merrick: 3 years

Popovic, Lowe and Merrick are most vulnerable with the trio about to enter their fourth seasons with their respective clubs.

Those who are heading into their third seasons, Muscat, Van’t Schip and Arnold, are on the cusp.

They may all survive the coming season of course; depending on to what extent they have refreshed their teams.

Popovic is a more interesting case and he should survive for a different reason.

He is only in his second season after he transitioned in terms of playing style and philosophy – a transition that earned his team a grand final place and another tilt at the AFC Champions League.

It is too early for players to have become bored with his dressing room lectures.

In any case, Popovic is among the coaches most ready to make changes to his playing staff in the offseason.

But that was before the Wanderers’ coach underwent his dramatic philosophical metamorphosis.

National coaches are not so vulnerable to ‘dressing room fatigue’ because they have a wider pool of players to call upon and they see the players less often.

But even they can become victims of their own team’s success.

Balagué told us in the World Cup studios in Rio how difficult things were for Spain’s coach Vicente Del Bosque.

He recounted how Del Bosque asked him, ‘How do you tell champion players who have won everything, including a World Cup and two European Championships, that their time is up?’

The greatest of teams, no matter how long their winning run, eventually reach this point if there is not sufficient regular refreshment of playing personnel.

Book of the Week: Pep Guardiola – Another Way of Winning, by Guillem Balagué.

This is a beautifully and thoughtfully penned biography of the world’s most admired coach by Balagué, a noted football writer and occasional SBS World Cup pundit.

It’s the philosopher football pundit writing about a deeply philosophical man.

The first chapter is about the reasons why Pep decided to step down as Barcelona coach after four glorious years.

In the foreword, Sir Alex Ferguson says he never did understand why Guardiola left the Catalan club.

Chapters are also devoted to Guardiola’s relationship with Jose Mourinho, the world’s most intense coaching rivalry which has recently been re-born in the English Premier League. This book is available for download from iBooks.

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5 min read
Published 20 September 2016 at 12:55pm
By Les Murray