Grigor Pasha writes: In preparation for taking up the reins at Neftochimic 1962 I spoke to lots of people and did some online reading. What, I wanted to know, should a manager do early doors?

What I found was a consensus that:

  • an incoming manager should focus on squad assessment
  • this requires detailed analysis.

But having thought about it, I find disagree on both counts.

An unorthodox approach

My argument is neither that squad assessment doesn’t matter, nor that the details don’t matter. No, my argument is that they don’t matter now.

Suppose I were to conduct a detailed analysis?

I could, say, develop plans for individualised training. But we probably won’t have the coaches in place to effect these plans, so they’re not much use just yet.

And any way the bulk of the training in the first week will be on physical training, team building (with sessions in our schedule entitled ‘team building’, ‘community outreach’, perhaps ‘team work), and general training (‘overall’, ‘outfield’).

Or I could devise a plan for player acquisitions — except that if, as is the case at Neftochimic, we don’t have any scouts or spare wage/transfer budget, we’re yet not in a position to move on that score. So relax: there’s no point having a plan.

So I prefer to do just enough squad assessment to tell me what I need to know to take the decisions that I can effect now.

The focus

Those decisions cluster around building a backroom staff.

Why? Because staff constitute levers that can potentially raise the level of our players’ game — so we need to get them installed.

And because, if good staff are available, they might not be so for long. We need to look sharpish and snap them up while my counterparts are still fiddling around with their sophisticated squad assessments.


But why then, you might ask, should I do any assessment of the squad on that first morning? Why not just go ahead and recruit the staff?

The answer lies in alignment. There’s no point bringing in coaches who like the long-ball game is we’re planning to play tippy-tappy.

(Can I teach X to play a simple passing game out of defence? No, I can’t: or at least I won’t, because, boss, I’m going to tell him to hoof it.)

I’m astonished at how little attention managers seem to devote to this matter of alignment. I just don’t get the thought process: we don’t have any deep-lying wide players, so we’re going to bring in a lover of 4-4-2?

Presumably when these guys pull the lever on a fruit machine in the pub and come up with a row of miscellaneous fruits, they express amazement that that doesn’t win them a jackpot?

I accept, of course, that at this level (Bulgarian 2nd tier), at this stage, I’m probably not going to find staff whose strengths and preferences are all perfectly aligned. But I can at least try to avoid hiring polar opposites.


So I need to know a little, just a little, about the squad, at least so I know what kinds of tactics we won’t be playing.

You’ll notice I’m pretty agnostic about tactics. So far as I’m concerned, the job of  a footballer manager is pragmatic rather than artistic: my job here is to get results, not express my personality.

I just don’t get the latter mindset. If, like Mourinho, you’re a grumpy sod, why does that mean your team has to play grumpy football?

Early-stage assessment

Here’s what I do.

  1. Take a general view of the squad. How many guys have we got for each essential position. Specifically:
    1. have we any goalies? if so, how many?
    2. ditto right-backs/wing backs, left-backs/wing-backs, and centre-backs?
    3. ditto strikers

Yeah, I know there are some guys out there who think you can go strikerless, or whatever — they seem to be led by some nutter called Guido, which isn’t much of  a name if you ask me — but we never  went topless in my day and we’re not going to start now.

Frankly, the whole idea just sounds effeminate, like vegetarianism.

18 Nov 19 strike
We need at least one striker. Photo courtesy of, under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

Now, I reckon if we’ve got a GK, RFB/WB, LFB/WB, a couple of CBs, and at least one ST, we can get a team together.


2. Look at what we’ve got, positionally, between defence and attack

At Neftochimic, we have quite a few defensive and central midfielders. And we have four players who like to play out wide, three of whom can’t do anything else.

And we don’t have much in the way of central attacking mids.

A further, though still cursory, look at the strikers reveals that we have three, one of whom’s a target man (and another of whom could be, at a push).

I think, by the way, that’s enough to suggest that it will be a mixed economy for us. We won’t be playing any extreme style. Not Pulis-ball; not wide-diamond; and not short-passing either.

The question of precisely what we will play can wait.


I also take a quick look at the star-ratings that my assistant manger has given the players. I’m about to sack the guy but I decided to keep him on for a couple of hours, just to get his report.

I recognise that these ratings aren’t reliable: they’ll be only as good as his judgement, which I’m led to believe is pretty poor.

On the other hand, his assessments are unlikely to be completely wrong. If he’s assessed a player’s ability, say, **** it probably won’t turn out to be **. Which is accurate enough for the purposes of the moment.


You might at this stage be wondering: what about set-piece takers? leadership? blend of personalty? range of experience? registration requirements?

To which my answer is, all of those things will soon become pertinent, but they aren’t yet, because right now they don’t affect anything. They can wait.

Time now to assemble the backroom team.


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