Character will ensure a winning team – skill is an added bonus
Which should come first, character or skill? It is a dilemma that has filled many an hour in the pub or cafe, and it was one of the main issues which came up at a course attended by Torquay United manager Alan Knill in London this week.
It was run by a company which specialises in helping managers in business and sport to do their jobs better and their latest seminar was all about preparing "elite" teams to perform at their maximum.
Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, ex-Blackburn Rovers player and manager Henning Berg and England and Leicester rugby union star Martin Corry were among those in attendance.
By the way, the general consensus was that character nearly always comes before skill, not because the latter does not matter but because skill without character seldom, if ever, delivers over any period of time.
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Another sporting topic of conversation that came up was how dressing-rooms are run.
Knill revealed that Corry was emphatic that the Leicester Tigers' inner sanctum was self-policing, and all the better for it.
What happened if someone was badly out of line? "Physical violence", replied Corry. Probably a well-timed dig during a training session or practice match.
It is an anecdote which will bring a knowing smile to any regular rugby player.
Quite a few years ago, a supporter rang your correspondent with the breathless bit of gossip that there had been a scrap in the Plainmoor dressing-room, complete with the names of main protagonists.
The fan was a bit put out when I said it might be an idea to ring me when there had not been a set-to for a few weeks. I was not trying to be clever. It was just that it was the way things were then – the "pecking order" was regularly reaffirmed, and woe betide any misguided player who threatened it.
During the late Cyril Knowles' time in charge at United, he often used to delay going into the home dressing-room at half and full-time, because he knew that his senior professionals would be "sorting a few things out" without any help from him. Cyril would then march in, either to complete any rollicking or to put things right.
Knill and many other managers still adopt the same tactics from time to time, but, without sounding too 'good-old-days', many dressing-rooms are not quite what they used to be.
Ex-Gulls defender Jon Gittens, a key man in Kevin Hodges' 1998 play-offs team, had played long enough at a high level to expect less experienced men to listen when he told them something.
Gittens usually called a spade a shovel, and the story goes that, when he informed a younger team-mate one day that he was not marking tightly enough, he was greeted by a retort to go forth and multiply. It was a bad mistake.
Gittens could be a scary character when he was crossed, and let us just say that the matter was sorted in no uncertain terms as soon as the pair got back to the dressing-room. The player concerned never talked back to Gittens again, at least not like that, and he went on to a good career as a player and manager.
There are still strong-minded pros around who can 'self-police' a dressing-room, but it takes several to do the job properly and it takes time to gather them in one place.
Get enough of them and you usually have a winning team. The skill comes on top.