“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
The fans chant this to the manager as his team concedes yet another goal that confirms yet another defeat in a run of poor results. The standards of the club would not allow for much more of this. The owner had thought he made the right selection choosing this guy to manage the side. Money was invested to develop the playing side and the manager was given full reign to adjust the playing side to his own pleasing. Patience was running at an absolute low. It was clear to the fans and to the board that this manager would have to go.
Yet the owner stepped in and, after a conversation with the manager, he said he would support the manager more. He believed in what the manager was doing and could see the roots of recovery. He was impressed with what was taking place behind the scenes. How important it was to the manager to communicate clearly to the plpayers and above all assure them that they had his unwavering support. Despite the defeats, the manager would never openly criticise individuals. Everything was acknowledged as a team responsibility – and that team was as much about the coaching staff as it was about the playing staff. What had become a point of ridicule was how the manager persisted in saying he believed in the players and he believed in the process. He believed that one day his efforts would come to the fore. He knew what He was doing.
The following game appeared to be following the familiar recent pattern when the team conceded in the first half. The manager looked around at half time and saw the faces. Some resigned to another defeat. Some dejeccted at their seeming lack of progress. The manager assessed the mood and immediately raised his hand. The players knew what this signalled and from the captain and other experienced players they also stopped their muttering and raised their hands. The manager spoke,
“The opposition don’t believe they will lose. Their fans don’t believe they will lose. Their board of directors don’t believe they will lose. Our fans don’t believe we will win. Our board of directors don’t believe we will win. Some of our fans don’t believe we will win. I look into your eyes and one or two of you don’t believe you will win. Some of you have forgotten what it is like to win.”
He stopped and let the silence hang for a minute.
“I believe you can win. I believe you will. I believe because we trained for this. I believe because we agreed on this. I believe because we have the players for this. I believe because we are a team for this. We together, in this team, have gone down to the depths and suffered. We together, in this team, will rise to new heights as long as we stay together. We will win this match because I believe. We will win this match because we believe. Not that we believe we can win. But we believe, just for today, that we will win.”
He never raised his voice. He wasn’t looking for a euphoric response. He looked at three individuals in particular whose demeanour changed. Not to irrepressive optimism, but to steely determination. Just those three.
Before the second half, those three players took responsibility to go to other players in their areas and shook their hands and said, “I trust you to do your very best. You have my support.” That didn’t appear to work when within a few minutes the opposition scored again to take a two goal lead.
Yet those three players gave knowing looks to the others in the team. A few minutes later they managed to score to reduce the deficit to one goal. They remained disciplined without possession, never fretting, just focusing on their responsibilities and communicating support and direction. The opposition were unnerved by their failure to accept another inevitable. With time running out the equaliser came from a set piece routine the team had rehearsed often and now, finally, it had come off and they scored from it. Confidence began to rise further. Yet time was against them.
As well as that the equaliser seemed to upset the opposition who now felt a new wave of energy to ensure they would regain their lead and confirm the lead. The opposition cranked up the pressure, but they now faced a more resolute side. Throwing their bodies in the way of every effort made. Their manager applauded every clearance and every good tackle. He gave the thumbs up sign to the three significant players. They knew what to do.
As the opposition had an attacking set piece with seconds left in the match, the three rged their team mates to rush forward. The three stayed in a position that appeared foolish because the opposition had possession and a chance to score. The three, however, somehow were able to break up the set-piece quickly and set in motion the last gasp counter-attack of their own. The move traversed quickly from end of the pitch to the other and before the opposition were able to respond the last kick of the game saw the team score the winner against all odds.
As the referee blew the final whistle, the team collapsed momentarily under the weight and enormity of what had just happened. They had not only won, but they had won it together. They celebrated the victory together and were looking for their manager, but he had already shook hands with his opposite number and was making his way back to the dressing room.
He knew what he was doing – he was building a team to win.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden