Robbie Mustoe: Best manager is a tough question, I was always a player that wanted and appreciated coaching, both individually and for the team and quite honestly I didn’t receive too much of that throughout my career. For the most part my managers were good communicators, motivators and man managers and not so much “training ground guys”. I will mention though a couple of managers that impressed me for different reasons.
Bryan Robson was my manager for five years and helped my career the most – he believed in me and let me know that from day one. For Bryan Robson to say that, meant everything. I can’t say BR was a brilliant tactical coach but someone I had immense respect for and he improved me and educated me by playing – as a midfield player I watched him closely in training and in the games, I learned a lot.
Steve McClaren also stands out for me as someone that was extremely well organized, prepared, thoughtful and was good on the training pitch. He was the best coach for day to day practice that I ever had, by a mile. Every session was thought out and written down for the players on our notice board for the entire week. All his (& assistants) sessions just worked, the amount of players, the space of the field, the sharpness and intensity was excellent, very enjoyable.
I guess my dream manager would to be to combine the abilities of Bryan Robson, Steve McClaren and Terry Venables.
RM: Terry Venables, quite simply, because of his coaching ability. We only had him for about six months but he was a calming influence and with his training ground expertise recovered our position, (bottom three) in the Premier League around December, to safety at the end of the season. He came in as an advisor but took over all the training. It was felt our then manager Bryan Robson, with assistants Gordon McQueen and Viv Anderson, needed help with the team and without raising his voice or changing the team too much coached us out of trouble. It was very impressive.
Day after day 11 v 11 with TV moving us very carefully in to different positions on the field to cope with all possibilities both at the back and going forward. We had shortcomings as a squad, but he made us in to a very well organized balanced team that had several planned movements in the bag when needed (interchanging players, etc). The extra organization and understanding on the field made the difference in our games turning losses in to draws and draws in to wins. For me it was a very powerful indicator that good team coaching made a difference, a very big important difference.
RM: I remember playing against a brilliant Arsenal team, late nineties. Annoying. Great players well coached. Memorable because they always had a man extra, wherever they were on the field. Technically gifted players that were extremely intelligent too. I’m talking about [Dennis] Bergkamp playing the hole and [Thierry] Henry up front, or wide left, wherever he felt was the best place to receive the ball. Wide players like [Robert] Pires and [Freddie] Ljungberg who knew when to stay wide (draw out players for others), or roll inside between the lines being very hard to mark.
Central midfield players like [Patrick] Vieira and [Emmanuel] Petit who stayed away from the front players to allow depth for others to work. Full backs that were always involved, again pulling our boys around. As a CM player it was so frustrating… ready, willing and able to close the ball down, get in tackles, but couldn’t because I was always just in between/out numbered. I’d have to say as well, with limited memory, that foreign teams often used different systems that we found hard to stop. Possession was the name of the game and the British teams in general were not great at it. Same today.
Easy one, has to be Sir Alex Ferguson – I played against the “class of 92” team. To bring those young talented players through as carefully and successfully as he did was remarkable. Pretty simple in terms of team set-up, but a super motivated, talented, humble and hard working team. You could tell he was like a Father figure, keeping the players’ feet firmly on the ground. Proper football legend.
RM: What manager would you have wanted to play for and why?
Ok, so let’s go fantasy here… I have to say Jose Mourinho. The thought of a relationship between coach and player so strong, so tight as I hear from so many players he has worked with, is extremely attractive to me. I was a player that wanted to please the coach, at all times, I wanted to give my all for my teammates, the club and my coach. I’ve not always felt super important at a club, so I’d love to have experienced Mourinho’s motivational skills and winning mentality first hand.
RM: Not very nice advice, but maybe the BEST. When I was a young pro, back at Oxford United (where I started my career) I played in a reserve game with some senior pros. I played left midfield ahead of Bobby McDonald (very experienced tough defender) who was having a bad time in the game against a very talented wide player… he gave me the biggest bollocking ever for not coming back defensively to help him out – I didn’t know the full roles and responsibilities of that position at that time in my development, but I sure did after that game!!!
Other than that nothing really stood out, although I would say my biggest on job learning came from watching/studying other players, senior/star players. Bryan Robson was my gaffer at Boro – he wasn’t the best communicator or coach really, but I learned so much about midfield play by watching him every day in training and on match days. An inspiration.
SB: Do you have any interest in a career in coaching?
RM: I did have an interest in coaching, but quite frankly was initially put off with the enormous pressure and hostility towards any given manager at any time. Did I really want to put myself and my family through that? But it didn’t stop my fascination with the game, the specifics, the details, the tactics, everything – I had an urge to “figure the game out”, crack the code. I spent many years doing my own data/stats on what I thought were important game details – whether it was tackles/interceptions made in certain areas or the player’s ability to keep the ball… did that determine the likely winner of the game? I still love the tactical and technical part of the game and my current career in broadcasting gives me the chance to break stuff down and hopefully help educate the young/new football fans in the US.