Where do you draw the line between progression and success?

Where do you draw the line between progression and success?

After Luis Enrique announced his seemingly inevitable resignation as Barcelona coach, he made a poignant statement: “The reason clearly had to do with the way of life I need to have in this profession, constantly having to find solutions, constantly trying to improve my team,” he said. “I need to rest.”

The Spaniard has been worn down, fatigued, almost broken by the incessant demand for success at the Catalan club. An insatiable appetite for trophies has been created at a club that, before relatively recently, were by no means a constant fixture at the top of the European game.

Barcelona are not alone in this complacent assumption that they will be, without fail, challenging for every trophy, every season. They are, in a way, symbolic and indicative of the current culture of modern football that has left coaches with much to consider when deciding how they approach their constantly scrutinised jobs.

Enrique’s words were interesting for a number of reasons. They pointed out not only the clear lack of time for a coach at the top level, but also the unenviable pressure that seems to be only increasing as the game becomes more and more commercialised. Gabriele Marcotti revealed in a recent article for ESPN just how little of a full season is actively spent on the training pitch, using Bayern Munich’s Carlo Ancelotti as the example.

Marcotti calculated that the Italian coach will this campaign have a rough estimate of seven-and-a-half hours per month with a full squad to do a full training session. This is a result of many factors, varying from international breaks, injuries and fixture congestion, and is proving to be an undeniable, seemingly unavoidable issue for coaches. Add to this the sheer perpetual expectation on coaches in the top leagues of Europe, and it has become something of a recipe for disaster.

Coaches are now increasingly, and understandably, focused on simply succeeding at all costs, placing wild pragmatism ahead of progression. It has become an accepted part of a manager’s repertoire that they will adjust, simply do what is necessary to bring the team they are currently coaching the success that is so craved. But herein lies the problem; success in football is fleeting, forgotten in an instant.

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Take the well-documented dismissal of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. It was a perfect example of how football is a game of constant change, one now without sentiment, and one which could begin to appear arbitrary. As Marcelo Bielsa once said: “Success is only one exception that occurs from time to time.”

Everything in football points towards the reality that winning trophies is not the only thing of importance. But still, there is a blinkered view amongst the majority that it is all that matters. Much of this is created by sections of the media, and by the ever-growing financial demands of the game, creating an illusion of a lack of time, an absence of breathing space for a coach to work with any freedom. Results are king, method is obsolete. This is unlikely to change.

The media – particularly the tabloids – will continuously look to create a feeling of pressure on managers, while the game is inevitably only going to become more economically driven in the years to come. All of this is a hindrance for those coaches that see the bigger picture – the progression of football on a tactical level, both through influence and philosophy.

Football did not magically appear in its current state. The first ever game of football would appear almost unrecognisable to most of us – an unorganised, incoherent mess. It has, of course, drastically changed, but only through the innovators and pioneers, and those willing to take a risk. Without that thoughtful approach, it would not be what it is today, but that doesn’t mean that progression can just stop.

Herbert Chapman in the 1920s, for example, was the first example of what would now be considered a modern manager in England, and without his impact in the formative years of football, it may be that many of the things taken for granted today would not be present.

It’s unarguably more difficult to be the instigator of such change with the game no longer in such a linear stage, but there are those that still place great importance in the aim of doing so. One of those is Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola.

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This is a man obsessed with constantly perfecting his own idyllic philosophy, to the point where the ideology can often be prioritised over results. He would not be naive enough to entirely abandon an element of pragmatism within his playing model, but Guardiola is the coach that perhaps most ardently advocates the essential need to influence the next generation of coaches, and inspire others.

He was a student of Johan Cruyff, who in turn learnt from Rinus Michels and so on. Guardiola, while at Bayern, expressed a desire to oversee the learning process of players with coaching potential; the likes of Xabi Alonso, Manuel Neuer and Javi Martínez.

For progression to come in football, it requires risk, selflessness and a studious, dedicated mind. “There are a lot of coaches around today w