While many, if not most, Rangers supporters are clamoring for a change in the management of their club, the reality is that it’s unlikely that Ally McCoist will be relieved of his position.
From the outside, looking in – it is doubtful that Rangers have the stomach to justify releasing a manager with an unbeaten record in the league. Obviously, those who follow the club closely, understand the lack of progress made by the team over the last 2+ seasons & are frustrated by the short-sighted manor in which the team is run.
This has all been addressed ad-nauseam on this blog & nearly every media outlet that covers the team.
The purpose of this post is to deal with the likely reality that Ally McCoist will continue as manager for the foreseeable future.
One of the recommendations that has floated around is to have McCoist visit other clubs to learn the trade of managing a football club from new perspectives. This is relatively common practice.
One example is New York City FC’s incoming boss Jason Kreis who spent six months embedded with Manchester City as a means of scouting their youth players & to learn the ‘Manchester Way’. Kreis has already experienced success in MLS, winning the championship with Real Salt Lake in 2009, & has been charged with being the first manager for NYC FC, where he will work with Claudio Reyna who functions as the director of football operations.
The benefits of such an experience for a learning manager, like Ally McCoist, are obvious. However, the complication is that the Scottish season basically coincides with the rest of Europe.
The solution would be for Ally McCoist to spend his summer in America, where Major League Soccer stays in operation throughout the summer, even during the World Cup.
Nobody is saying that learning from a MLS club is the same as the likes of Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund – but there is plenty for McCoist to discover on how clubs are run in a different league. Teams must operate under a salary cap, so simply buying your way to success is rare in MLS. Loopholes are in place to add glamour players (David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Jermain Defoe) but most clubs build the core of their teams by cultivating young talent.
Also, the level of talent that a manager has to work with is similar to the Scottish game & how coaches maximize that talent in MLS would be clearly applicable to the same task for Rangers.
Obviously, like any league, MLS has established managers who have implanted systems that breed success – while there are others who are one losing streak away from being replaced.
So I have taken it upon myself to map out an itinerary for how Ally McCoist should spend his summer holidays. As soon as the season ends, he should hop on a plane, come to America & visit the following managers:
- Dominic Kinnear, manager for the Houston Dynamo
- Sigi Schmid, manager of the Seattle Sounders
- Peter Vermes, technical director & manager for Sporting Kansas City
Manager: San Jose Earthquakes (2004-05) & Houston Dynamo (2006- present)
Winner of MLS Championship in 2006 & 2007
Lessons to be learned:
- Building a winning atmosphere with a limited budget
- Taking on underachieving players & developing their skills to help the teams succeed
- Maximizing the use of an entire squad of players
The Glasgow-born, California raised Kinnear is one of the most successful coaches in recent MLS history, having won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 & 2007. He’s been able to consistently lead one of the most competitive teams in the league on a budget that pales to his competitors. The highest paid player on the team makes a weekly salary of £4,300 a week, while the majority of the squad earn about £1,100 weekly. There are no big name former internationalists on the team (unless you include Ricardo Clarke) & somehow Kinnear always has Houston among the league’s elites.
In an article for ESPN FC, Jeff Carlisle investigated what led to Kinnear’s perennial success. Carlisle claimed that it began with Kinnear’s emphasis on a positive dressing room environment.
Houston Dynamo & United States national team player, Brad Davis said, “Kinnear’s always been more of a guy who would sacrifice a little bit of talent to bring in a guy who was going to fit into the locker room. At the end of the day that dynamic is more important. You can have a group of guys that are the most talented in the world, but if they don’t get along they’re not going to play well together.”
Carlisle also attributes Kinnear’s promise to his squad of players “that there will be plenty of minutes to go around and then follows through on that pledge.”
Kinnear does not fall into the malaise of throwing out the same first eleven, week after week, & while it may be frustrating to supporters – it creates competition for spots in the squad. This creates an environment where players are forced to be at their best to maintain their role in the lineup.
Imagine if Kinnear was in charge of a Rangers lineup where Nicky Law, Jon Daly, Richard Foster, Bilel Mohsni, & Ian Black are no longer guaranteed a start & were actually held accountable for uninspired or poor play.
He’s a tough manager that demands a lot from his players, but he is very much a players coach. He’s often involved in the drills and runs with the team which provides him with a hands-on feel for his players.
He is quite defensive oriented, and prefers strong players that can win balls in the air. He always wants his forwards to track back and help defend. Set pieces have always been a large part of his offense and he has had great providers in that department in players such as Brad Davis, Stuart Holden, Oscar Boniek Garcia, and Adam Moffat. These players target the strong big center backs and target forwards that Kinnear really likes to have.
Kinnear also loves having players that can play in multiple positions, something that he helps nurture over time. Two great examples of these players are current Dynamo player Warren Creavalle who plays RM, right defender, center back, and center midfield (preferably in a defensive spot) and former Dynamo Geoff Cameron (now with Stoke City) who played RM, center mid (attacking or defensive positions), right back, center back, and even forward for awhile.
As you can see there are a great deal of similarities between Kinnear & McCoist. Kinnear’s Scottish roots are evident in his approach to building a squad & given that he works on a limited budget he appears to focus on enhancing players’ versatility in order to plug & play players in a variety of roles. McCoist attempts a similar approach to little success & often ends up stifling a player’s abilities.
Stowers discussed Kinnear’s tactical approach to matches,
He typically has everything worked out ahead of game day and doesn’t stray or make radical changes from the previous game plan. Even if the previous game was a big defeat, he gets them ready for the next week during practices and most of us Dynamo supporters don’t question him too often for not making changes simply due to his great MLS track record. When he does make in game changes, depending on the situation, he may switch formations and utilize some of his multi-positional players to do so. Even though Kinnear’s standard 4-4-2 is his bread and butter, two years ago he showed us that he can also successfully use the more attacking 4-3-3 both as his regular formation and as one he switches to during games when the Dynamo are down and in need of a goal.
It’s not easy to be a coach in this league (just look at Toronto that changes coaches about once a year, sometimes more), but Dominic Kinnear has earned his tenure in Houston.
Stowers on Kinnear’s keys to success,
I would say one of the biggest keys to his success is how he develops players in practice, reserve league, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champion’s league. He, like most MLS coaches, do not take these competitions too seriously with the main focus (and best way to keep a job really) being the MLS Cup.
His other big key is his scouting. He can see players that are coming back from injury and he’ll gamble on some of them, or he’ll see someone undervalued and pick them up, and in the off-season he’ll travel and see what players he can see fitting in both an MLS system and his own while keeping in mind a limited budget.
Overall, he’s a tough manager that asks the most out his players, and they respect him. He’s very passionate during games constantly yelling at players – and he isn’t shy about dropping some inappropriate language here and there. He is able to take a team and really make them competitive in the league year after year despite having one of the smaller budgets.
There is much in common between Kinnear, who earned 54 caps for the United States, & Ally McCoist. They have a similar philosophy to football, bred by their Scottish roots. But there is also much to learn from Kinnear.
Kinnear’s ability to find undervalued players & develop their skills has been critical to breeding success, year after year. Additionally, maximizing an entire roster in order to prepare players for different situations is something that McCoist does not do. The fear of failure means the same 11-13 players are in the lineup, every week while the bulk of the squad watches from afar or hopes for an U20 match to see game action.
Houston’s a great first stop for McCoist – start with a similar Scottish soul & fine tune some of his approaches to management.
Next, McCoist should travel to the soccer hotbed of the Pacific Northwest.
Manager: United States U20s (1998-99, 2005), Los Angeles Galaxy (1999-2004), Columbus Crew (2005-08), Seattle Sounders (2009-present)
Winner of MLS Championship in 2002 & 2008
Lessons to be learned:
- Delegation of responsibilities to qualified assistant coaches
- Adjusting tactical approaches to the players’ strengths
- Being willing to change & evolve
Seattle Sounders manager Sigi Schmid is feeling the pressure. After securing the rights to American football icon, Clint Dempsey, last season expectations for Seattle were sky-high. However, the team’s results did not match the support’s demand for success. The club sells out their matches week in, week out with 38,000+ supporters who create an atmosphere that rivals the greatest clubs in Europe. This environment creates a pressure cooker that is, for the most part, unique to MLS.
Management has to answer to those fans….literally. Every four years, season ticket holders actually have an election that decides the fate of the team’s general manager. An actual election, a vote of confidence & if you don’t have the support of the fans – you’re fired.
In this environment, Schmid recognized that he was on the hot seat & consciously made decisions to change his approach to management. Schmid has been coaching soccer since the late 1970s & still realizes if he doesn’t evolve, he’s out of a job.
Schmid told Mayers, “You can never stagnate. The moment you stagnate is the moment you go backwards.”
Mayers details how Schmid began to get much stricter with his players & decided to be more proactive in dealing with one-to-one relationships with them, an approach that he hasn’t employed since his days coaching college players back in the 1980s.
Schmid said, “I always thought that was my strength as a coach and as you get older, you’re like, ‘Ah, they don’t want to talk to me. I’m 60 now and they’re like 22. What do they want to talk to their granddad for?’ But it’s not like that.”
“You always have to coach from the base point of your personality and you never make radical changes. You just enhance things.”
Schmid is very much a delegator in his approach to management. Sigi gives quite a bit of authority to his fellow coaches, including scouting and game preparation.
He’s still pretty hands-on during training sessions and there’s no doubt who the boss is, but he doesn’t seem to be remotely against letting other guys have input.
His matchday tactical approach is pretty difficult to define. I’d say he’s probably a little conservative, but he’s also more than happy to let his players do whatever they do best. He’s not committed to a specific style and will switch up his formations based on the players available.
When it comes to training sessions, he likes to switch things up a lot. Everyday is a different set of drills and when they are playing, it’s more often short-sided games of various types. The really only play 11 v 11 toward the end of the week when they are working on specific game prep.
There is nothing revolutionary here to enlighten Ally McCoist. Remember we are easing him into things with this itinerary. The real progressive learning is still to come.
First we started with a fellow Scotsman & then moven on to a seasoned veteran. But much can still be learned here.
Say what you want about Charles Green, but maybe he was onto something when he called on McCoist to flush out assistants Ian Durrant & Kenny McDowall.
It has been difficult to gauge what their contributions are, as McCoist is always out in the front of managing the club, at least publicly. It may be time for Ally to freshen up his staff. Obvious candidates like Gordon Durie & David Weir would be the types of coaches that could handle major responsibilities & would add new voices to the managing team. Also, in the next few years players like Kris Boyd or Carlos Bocanegra would likely be looking to get into coaching & Ibrox would be an ideal home for them.
But the biggest lesson here would be for Ally McCoist to adjust his tactics to the talents of the players in the squad. It does not take a tactical genius to see that playing Jon Daly as the lone forward does not work. Daly is a slow, plodding player who gets isolated when he doesn’t have another forward to link up with. Give him a striking partner to knock balls down to then you have the making of an effective player. Plus, many supporters have been begging for a shift to a 4-3-3 lineup to best utilize the talents of David Templeton, Dean Shiels, Lewis MacLeod, Fraser Aird, Nicky Clark, & so on. But more often then not, McCoist relies on a 4-2-3-1 approach that often asks for players to play out of position & relies on two holding midfielders against the likes of Stranraer & Brechin City.
If you’re still with me on this tour of America…thank you for your time. Now it’s time to introduce McCoist to a progressive manager who is leading one of the most entertaining teams in MLS.
Manager & Technical Director: Sporting Kansas City (2009- present)
Winner of MLS Championship in 2013
Lessons to be learned:
- Long term planning
- Developing young talent to fit a system of play
- Succeeding with a tight budget
- Implementing a football philosophy that emphasizes speed & pressure
- Having a planned out, scientific approach to training
Peter Vermes, a former forward for the United States national team, is one of the few men in professional sports who has successfully led a team simultaneously as technical director & as manager. The 47-year old Vermes has transformed a once doormat club into the defending champions through shrewd management & by instilling a confidence that infuses throughout the club.
Back in the summer of 2013, when the club decided to extend Vermes’ contract, Sporting Kansas City’s CEO touted Vermes vision as a key aspect to his success.
“We love that Peter has always been a long-term thinker and I believe the building blocks around turning this into a great organization long-term are in place.”
Writing for KC Kingdom, Brandon Whetstone analyzed Vermes success as a manager.
Vermes has a knack for finding young, talented players that he can groom into his style of soccer. A great example of a player that has excelled under Vermes is Graham Zusi. Zusi came to Kansas City after being drafted out of the University of Maryland in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. After a few seasons of getting used to Vermes’ style, he had his breakout year in 2011, and is now considered an important part of the United States Men’s National Team. When a majority of MLS signs older international players to succeed, Vermes has been relying on young domestic and international players that fit his system.
Sporting Kansas City is under the absolute guidance of Vermes. Not only is he the technical director & manager – he is also in charge of the club’s youth system.
I asked Thad Bell who covers Sporting Kansas City for The Back Post to detail Vermes management style – from player development, to his tactical philosophy, to how he runs training sessions. Bell wrote,
Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes is very organized and very confident in his system. While he tweaks the lineup and the game tactics it is sometimes subtle because his high pressure, high speed, everyone must be “Sporting fit” to play shines through.
He takes a long view on building the team. When he took over near the end of a season, the conventional wisdom was he needed to win some games to try and make the playoffs. Instead he broke the team up and started remaking it in his image.
Another example of long view, new players do not start, and rarely make bench no matter how good until they have time to get fit and understand offensive, defensive and transition responsibilities. Then he will get a player in the 18 for a game or two before letting them have any minutes at all.
This long view even come into play with loans. He wants his players to know what he wants and expects before he loans them to another team to get play time. Most loaned players will have been in camp for a year before going on loan.
When it comes to his tactical approach, the main priority is first and foremost to play the system. Believe in the system, the style. Press hard, know when to press with everyone, when to close down players, create lots of chances.
The base formation is 4-3-3. The outside backs get forward and overlap the forwards but are expected to get back on defense very quickly.
With his teams being very fit they can often wear down another team. His subs usually come later after 60th, 70th minutes unless there are injuries.
His practice sessions are very planned out. He is very scientific for how hard to work players and keep them as fresh as possible. Players that are in the 18 (or close) will often be run off the field if they hang around playing some kind of shooting games. Training lasts for set amount of effort, drills and objectives and he does not want them tiring themselves out.
What they work on depends on schedule, if there is a midweek game or not.
Typically building up through the week to changes he implements based on opponent. Again system does not change but they will have scouted the other team to the point that they know which way they want players to pressure opponents, which defenders or midfielders they think they can take advantage of and what they will do when pressured.
Vermes accomplishments are even more impressive when you take into account the salaries of the squad. The top player earns £4,000 a week, while four others make £2,700 a week. The majority of the team makes £1,000 a week or less.
Imagine all that McCoist could learn if he shadowed Peter Vermes for a few weeks & learned to embrace a similar approach.
So there you go, a recommendation for Ally McCoist & how he should spend his summer. Obviously this is only a random blog post – searching for stories at the end of the season. But no matter what, it is imperative that Ally turns this summer into a learning experience as he faces the challenge of bringing Rangers to their next step in their rise back to the top of Scottish football. If he stumbles next season, there will be no salvaging his position as manager of Rangers.