“The special one”

In a recent conversation with an “Agile Coach”, the conversation turned to coaching in an organisational setting. The coach said:

“It’s my job to tell people that they are doing things wrong, and that they should approach things the way I tell them to… I’m a bit like Jose Mourinho… the special one… and that’s why people don’t really like me and they often push back on what I tell them!”

I thought it was an interesting approach. The Jose Mourinho reference got me thinking about the traits some football managers/coaches share with coaches within organisations.

As we count down to the new English football season and as a bit of fun, I thought I would look at the characteristics of the top five football coaches in the English premier league.

Antonio Conte

Team: Chelsea

2016/17 finishing position: Champions


  • Single minded focus on the whole system
  • Respected by his team
  • Always looking for improvement – helped the team evolve by coaching a change in team formation after identifying an early weakness in the team
  • Has helped certain players play out of their normal position, meaning that they are more adaptive as a team

Talksport likeability factor: 4th most likeable manager in the league [1]

(As written in the following Talksport.com article – https://talksport.com/football/every-current-premier-league-manager-ranked-likeability-least-most-likeable-170201225440)


Mauricio Pochettino

Team: Tottenham Hotspurs

2016/17 finishing position: 2nd


  • Focussed evolving a young team from the ground up
  • Allows the team to play based on its strengths
  • Promotes self-organisation
  • Has helped the team improve their resilience in difficult circumstances. In many previous seasons, their form would fall away toward the end of the season
  • Formed a good relationship with his team

Talksport likeability factor: 2nd most likeable manager in the league [1]


Pep Guardiola

Team: Manchester City

2016/17 finishing position: 3rd


  • Clear vision of how he believes teams should play football
  • Most of the time remains calm under pressure and coaches his team to do the same
  • Once said that he doesn’t condone possession football for the sake of possession, it must always lead to a scoring opportunity. Therefore he coaches his teams to focus on delivering value at all times
  • His teams always buy into his ethos and approach

Talksport likeability factor: 8th most likeable manager in the league  [1]


Jurgen Klopp

Team: Liverpool

2016/17 finishing position: 4th


  • Again a clear vision of how he believes teams should play football
  • Coaches the team to have a whole team focus by defending from the front and this leads to winning possession high up the field leading to more opportunities to scoring goals and delivering value
  • There is a strong emphasis on cross-functionality with attacking players within his teams
  • Not always successful in coaching his teams to mitigate risk, hence the numerous defensive lapses and the many goals the team concedes
  • Hugely strong bond, between all members of his team, as can be seen by the Klopp bear hugs at the end of each match

Talksport likeability factor: 9th most likeable manager in the league [1]


Jose Mourinho

Team: Manchester United

2016/17 finishing position: 5th


  • Very directive in his approach, even going as far as saying in one post-match interview that he told one of his players exactly what he should do throughout the majority of the game
  • While being extremely successful in his managerial career, last season his team drew a lot of games in the league which could suggest he was not focussed on maximum value delivery.
  • Relationships with most of the clubs he has coached in breaks down after relatively short periods of time, meaning that his teams never really get the chance to evolve into the teams that they potentially could be
  • Loves the sound of his own voice and always thinks he knows best

Talksport likeability factor: 19th most likeable manager in the league [1]


Clearly, I’ve written the manager profiles with a little pinch of artistic license, but is there a correlation between likeability and the success of a coach? It does seem so. For example, Sean Dyche, manager of Burnley was 5th most likeable manager in the league, according to Talksport [1], and yet his team finished just above the relegation zone and as we have seen even the special one finished way above what his likeability factor would suggest.

However, while it seems that likeability is not the biggest factor in coaching teams for success, I believe that building rapport is.

In fact, the three step skilled helper model created by Gerard Egan [2], a professor of organisation studies and psychology, suggests that rapport should be built from the first moment a coaching relationship starts, whether that be with an individual, team or organisation.

The model looks 3 main questions [2]:

  1. “What is going on?”
  2. “What do I want instead?”
  3. “How might I get what I want?”

The first step in the model relates to exploring the problem and the challenge the client is facing. “The coach’s role in this step is to listen, empathise, demonstrate understanding, summarise, clarify, check and build rapport. The coach should avoid interpretation or solution finding” [3].

In my experience of coaching others, rapport promotes trust and comfort, and this forms a good foundation for the individual or team to continue to evolve to even greater successes. So, while the Jose Mourinho approach may work in some circumstances, in most other circumstances, the approach taken by the other four managers and the approach encouraged by Egan, where a good relationship and rapport is built before any solutions are put forward, is likely to be the wisest thing to do.



[1] – Talksport.com (2017).  https://talksport.com/football/every-current-premier-league-manager-ranked-likeability-least-most-likeable-170201225440

[2] – Egan, G. (2002). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity- development approach to helping. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.

[3] – Barefoot Coaching (2015). PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching.

Feature image on homepage courtesy of Paulo Corceiro. Used under creative commons license. Copyright 2016 www.paulocorceiro.com

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