What constitutes a great coach?
Is it the ones who have spent thousands of hours studying the intricacies of the game, equipping themselves with all the theoretical knowledge they can possibly find?
Or is it the ones who have been there and done that, got the t-shirts, the scars and bruises and all the on-field practical experience from their playing days as a professional, who have themselves learnt from great coaches that have come and gone?
Whose to say? I don't know!
After all, the likes of Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and thousands of others were not particularly known for their prowess as world class players. In fact, Klopp who has worked wonders at both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool by his own admission was a terrible player. Yet all of these men mentioned above will go down in football folklore as some of the best coaches of their time with hoardes of personal and club trophies to their names.
On the other hand Johan Cruyff, Didier Deschamps, Pep Guardiola, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Simeone, were all fantastic players in their heyday and have made the seemless transition from their brilliant playing careers to become some of the most decorated coaches of their generations.
In the same breath, we also have to spare a thought for those like Diego Maradona, Thierry Henry, Gary Neville who were all fantastic players in the past, but haven't quite excelled as coaches. We can argue that their records are not amongst the worst in the world but understandably you can’t mention them with same distinction as we did when they were players.
What I do know however, is that there is no precise formula for what makes a good coach.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this regard in any capacity but I do know the elements that I've drawn on and incorporated over the years in my career. As someone who has been in this industry for over 30 years, I can tell you that there are a thousand little things that go into making a good coach and at times, that might not even suffice.
Ultimately, a coach's success depends on results and sometimes it’s the small margins which make the difference.
Small things that like whether the ball hits the inside of the post and goes in, or does it ricochet off and goes out for a goal kick... or do you have your best player available because he manages to stay injury free for the entire season or are you faced with the conundrum of having five starting XI players either out injured or suspended at the same time. Those are all things beyond your control, regardless of how well you’ve prepared and you need them to sometimes go in your favour.
That said, I do believe that playing the game at the highest level does give one an advantage when venturing into coaching because you are learning every day from coaches that you are coached by and during the course of your career, take all these bits and pieces and add them to your own philosophies, beliefs and personality.
Building the foundations to all the things you can ultimately control.
Like defining a style of play that works for the team, how you're able to get those ideas across to the players in a way that allows them to adapt and believe in the tactics. Being able to adapt those tactics when you see opportunity or weakness that can be exploited. To earn and maintain the respect of the players. All factors which can directly contribute to your success.
You have to have conviction to live and die by your decisions, at the end of the day its not anyone else who is going to be accountable to the press and the fans other than you. Something of which having played the game, gives you some level of exposure.
I also believe that coaching is not an overnight process. You have to start from the bottom., working your way through the ranks. It’s about being entrenched in the game, serving the apprenticeships, earning your respective badges and licenses. Understanding the inner workings of professional football from a technical aspect. Progressing through the levels until eventually being promoted to head coach.
I remember when I was coming to the end of my career as a player, I was about 35 at the time and I had decided that I would be venturing into coaching. With the days slowly winding down... I served as a player coach at Witbank Black Aces so the wheels were already in motion for my coaching career.
Even before I took up my first topflight job at Manning Rangers, I had already done my apprenticeship and I was coaching all over the place, from Klerksdorp to AmaZulu where I coached the likes of Neil Tovey and others, I was travelling far and wide to ensure that I was getting exposed to as many facets of the game as possible.
By the time I had reached Rangers, I had already won two Second Division championships as a player-coach. I promoted both D’Alberton Callies and African Wanderers to what was then known as the First Division, later becoming the PSL.
That “apprenticeship” sparked a coaching career that yielded amongst many other things, four league championships, countless cup finals and famous wins against then world and European champions Spain as national team coach of Bafana Bafana.
Looking back, its nice to see some of the players I coached are starting to take the steps into becoming successful coaches themselves.
Names like Clinton Larsen, Fadlu Davids, Norman Mapeza, Kaitano Tembo all spring to mind as coaches who have already started to prove their pedigree; while a whole host of others like Dillon Sheppard, Surprise Moriri, Alex Bapela, Moeneeb Josephs are still serving ther apprenticeships and preparing to break through. Looking at them at the time, I had no idea that they would eventually wind up on this road but I hope their time spent with me will help them on their journeys.
With the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Gianluigi Buffon and so many other great players coming to the end of their careers it would be interesting to see whether they have the appetite and desire to venture into coaching and what type of coaches they will be, if they do.
Will they turn out to be world class like Guardiola and Zidane or whether they will find the going tough like Maradona and Henry?
Or maybe, just maybe another unknown like Ferguson, Klopp or Mourinho will spring up out of nowhere and become one of the greatest managers the world has ever seen.
Only time will tell...
Yours in football,
Coach Gordon Igesund