Football management is a stressful business. Never have the stakes been higher than they are now. With the game’s burgeoning finances causing a seemingly endless swelling of expectation from fans and owners alike, the life of a manager has become one of survival and self-preservation.
After 800 games in the spotlight at twelve different clubs over the course of twenty years, Micky Adams should know. And he does know. Since leaving Sligo Rovers in late 2015 after successfully staving off relegation, Adams has taken a step away from the game’s frontline.
Speaking candidly about the all-encompassing pressures of the role, Adams admits: “As you get older, sometimes you do say to yourself that there are other priorities in your life. You’ve got a family that you perhaps sacrificed when you were younger to try and get to the top and you want to see more of them.
“You want to do other things in your life and that’s the stage that I came to where I thought if there was anything else I could do to take away the drug of football – because football is a drug.”
Like any drug, football’s highs come with lows, as well as the daily challenge of attempting to live without it. For Adams, he admits that maintaining a healthy lifestyle was simply not plausible.
“I can only talk from my own experience but I would say that it’s impossible. Impossible. People say that they don’t take their job home with them but you do.
“As soon as you wake up in the morning – and that’s only if you’ve had a good night’s sleep beforehand – you’re straight back on it again and you’re thinking about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to go about things. You never know what’s you’re going to have to deal with.
“It’s not like an ordinary job where you go in and you know what you’re going to do on a daily basis. Anything can hit you at any time. It could be anything. It could be players with personal problems – I’m talking sex, drugs, money, marital problems – anything.
“And you’re the custodian of the football club for the supporters and sometimes the supporters don’t know what goes on behind the scenes because it doesn’t get reported. You take an awful lot inward and keep it away from the paying public. So you’re taking an awful lot on yourself.
“But the main thing is – and what you have to concentrate on – is winning games of football because if you don’t then the pressure is tenfold.”
With the season not yet even close to reaching its midway point, thirteen managers in England’s top four tiers have lost their jobs. Justin Edinburgh left Northampton before August had come to an end. When Slaven Bilic was sacked by West Ham – the most recent of the four Premier League casualties – Ian Wright confessed that he was pleased for the Croatian, such was the strain of the daily scrutiny on his position. For Adams, it was a sentiment that he can relate to.
“When you’re losing games of football, the pressure is enormous – particularly in the Premier League. Everybody can do your job better than you can, and sometimes it does come as a relief.
“Some can deal with it, some can’t. Different people have different coping mechanisms to deal with it. When you’re losing games of football and the criticism is there and you’re under pressure from your supporters, the press, your directors who are possibly saying to you – like they did with Slaven [Bilic], that you’ve got two games to save your job – it’s a tough ask.
“I do understand where Ian’s coming from in as much that it does become a relief when you’re not having to put yourself under that pressure and you lose your job. But what you quickly find is that a week or two down the line and you’ve had a holiday and you’re sleeping properly and everything back in your life is normal, then you’re looking for your next opportunity. It’s a crazy industry – because what you want to do is put yourself back under pressure.”
A Premier League manager at 40 after Dave Bassett resigned with Leicester City all but relegated in 2002, Adams immediately led Leicester City to an improbable cash-strapped promotion back to the Premiership. Yet, even in the club’s ominous financial straits, he explains that the pressure on him to deliver on-field results was overwhelming.
“In the summer [after relegation], we had a fire-sale of players because of the wages they were earning and the club eventually went into administration in the Championship season. The finances were dire so, to get the club sold out of administration, we had to keep winning.
“The pressure was to win games of football so that somebody would find the club attractive enough to buy it. Ultimately, we got promoted but we were all under pressure to win games because if we didn’t, the consequences for the football club would have been unthinkable.”
And, while vacancies on the proverbial merry-go-round remain in short supply, Adams admits that he now warns young coaches about committing to a career in management.
“When I speak now to young up-and-coming aspiring coaches who want to be managers, I tell them to have a real think about this because it can have serious consequences on your career, particularly at the lower end. You might only get one job and if you mess it up in the second division, you might never be seen again. That is the fact. So have a think about what you want to do and how you see your career developing because it is so cut-throat that you might only get one chance. I’m delighted that I did 20 years.”
The average managerial stint in League Two has dropped to twelve months in the last five years, while the 2015-16 season saw 70 managerial changes in a league pyramid of 92 clubs. Furthermore, the quintet of David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Roy Hodgson have held 23 Premier League jobs between them. The statistics are eye-opening and explain what Adams sees as a growing trend among recently retired pros.
“I think what you’ve got to do now is look at the Premier League players who go through the coaching system. They’re not doing it anymore and they don’t have to do it anymore, that’s the thing.
“They’re multi-millionaires and they’ve looked at the stresses and the strains that their own managers seem to be under while they’ve been playing and they say: ‘I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to do that. I want to go and do something else.’
“A lot of them now are turning to being pundits and talking about the game, making a decent living out of it, rather than putting themselves on this treadmill of a football manager because of the dramatic effect that it has on your family and on your own personal circumstances.
“The consequences can be dire sometimes – for your health and for your mental wellbeing. It’s not right.”
For all the honesty that Adams displays as he describes the travails of the job, he remains immensely proud of a long career. Only Roy Hodgson, Peter Taylor and Neil Warnock have held more managerial jobs.
“On my CV, I was a Premier League manager,” he reminds me as we discuss his many firefighting missions. Long before they arrived in the Premier League, Adams was in charge of a very different Brighton side – locked in financial trouble and not even playing at their home ground.
“Brighton, when I first went there, they were playing at Gillingham – a 150-mile road-trip for their supporters. They have a wealthy owner in there now in Tony Bloom, who’s done a fantastic job. He’s ploughed millions of pounds into the football club, they’ve got a brand-new stadium and training facilities that are second to none and I think that it’s all about the supporters and his love of the supporters. He’s doing that for them.”
While Adams is full of pride at what both Brighton and Leicester have achieved in the decade since his time there, he is humble enough to admit that he bears no responsibility for their subsequent successes.
“Of course, I wasn’t responsible for it but I was there at the start of the journey. You know, when you represent a football team through the good or the bad, you’re only a custodian.
“The supporters are there forever. You are employed to look after it as best as you can and sometimes you’re successful at it and sometimes you aren’t. You can’t always get it right.”
Looking back on his first job – at a Fulham side sitting 91st in the Football League ladder, Adams confesses: “It’s trial and error. You hear it from footballers all the time that they try and take the best bits of all the managers that they work for. That’s how it was. I did all my coaching badges but it still doesn’t prepare you for the rigours of football management.
“Luckily for me, we got off to a flier and we got promoted in our first full season so that gave me a lot of confidence and belief in the work that I was doing.”
When Mohamed Al-Fayed bought the club, Adams was sacked soon afterwards – just four months into a five-year deal. It is an episode that encapsulates the battle for survival that football management has become.
“But would I change it? No, I wouldn’t change it,” Adams says.
“Would I change some of the things I’ve done? Yes, I would. There’s no doubt about that. But you can’t look back. People say your career’s over but if it is, I can honestly look back at it and say that I gave it my best shot throughout my career and I enjoyed it.”
Would he accept an offer back into it all?
“You can never say never. Would I get the opportunity again? I get the odd phone call but sometimes you have to move on and do other things with your life. I’m enjoying what I’m doing at this moment in time.”
Featured photograph: Micky Adams