There have been a lot of things said, and a lot of things unsaid, ever since Anil Kumble stepped down as India coach on Tuesday evening. Kumble in his statement talked about being informed of the difference in style between him and captain Kohli with the skipper reportedly expressing ‘reservation’ to BCCI and in a continuity of the former leg-spinner as the coach of the Indian team beyond the one-year contract. Thus at the crux of it all, at least based on reliable information in the public domain, it is the difference between the two (or even the team) on style. Further, the relationship cannot be rebuilt, says Kumble, after it became untenable despite BCCI’s attempts of resolving the issues. And at the heart of the whole issue, the player power has led to the coach going out.
In football, player power has long resulted in manager’s getting the sack. This past season in England, Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester City manager just nine months after leading them to a glorious and memorable league title. There were reports of Ranieri and players disagreeing, reported The Telegraph, over changes in training methods, tactics and even the Italian’s fury at seeing the players wearing the wrong studs. This can be compared strongly with how Kumble’s methods of team bonding, training and reactions were different to what the previous coaches did.
Let’s step back and assess the involvement of the two people in the respective sport. In international cricket, the coach is less involved in the skill analysis – which is how one could define ‘coach’ – and more in fine tuning the strategy with the captain and in man management. India toured England and Ireland in 2007 without a coach and now are in West Indies without one. Both times the team manager took reign as a supervisor -Dr. MV Sridhar (GM – Cricket Operations) now and Chandu Borde then. “It is sad to see Kumble go but this definition of head coach must be changed. It should be called a cricket manager, a person who will be like a father figure,” said Farokh Engineer to Hindustan Times. The captain, on the other hand, is free to lead in the middle, change plans if things not going well and in some cases, select the team too.
In football, the coach has a far bigger role and is required to employ a more hands-on approach with everything from selecting the team, strategy, team motivation and building for future. The captain in football, meanwhile, has to focus more on the action on the field and motivate the players if/when required. A quote by legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson fits the bill in this case, “If a coach has no control, he will not last. The manager’s personality has to be bigger than any player,” he had said in 2012. Famous for his hair dryer treatment, he also said the approach can’t be suitable to all. “You can’t always come in shouting and screaming. That doesn’t work. No one likes to get criticised. But in the football dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes. I do it right after the game. I don’t wait until Monday, I do it, and it’s finished. I’m on to the next match. There is no point in criticising a player forever,” he added.
Unlike cricket, a team without a football manager is difficult to work out properly and a team full of superstars – as was the case for India in 2007 and now – like Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, David Beckham that Real Madrid boasted in mid 2000’s, couldn’t deliver trophies.
Jose Mourinho was removed as Chelsea manager in 2015 after a disappointing season until then. The official word was about the results but there were more underlying layers to the sack – one being the players. In mid-December, Mourinho lambasted the players for being ‘betrayed’ by them and for being at a poor level. That turned out to be his last press conference. The Portuguese manager played a crucial role in Iker Casillas, who had spent all his life at Real Madrid including the 16 years with the senior team, asking for a move out following a troubled relationship that eventually saw the Spaniard being aligned to the bench.
One could look at history in ‘Homeworkgate’ when the then Australia coach Mickey Arthur asked the team members to submit ways to improve performance during the tour to India. Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja were made ineligible four a Test after failing to return the assignment in time. All that it shows is that players stick to a line to a degree, shift that line and you have trouble.
Maybe to avoid such occurrence in the future, the role should be called something other than a coach and the responsibilities be clearly defined. At this juncture, it seemed like Kohli and Kumble stepped on each other’s toes.