tic-tac tactics

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2. Issue 31 (February 2003)

We’ve all seen them haven’t we ?  Waving their arms about and shouting the odds.  No… not Michael Owen’s bookie.  I mean team coaches on the touchline.  They try and urge their side on to greater exhortations and tinker with their tactics, but what do their signs and shouting achieve and mean ? 

Many managers seem to almost get out of their box (or should I correctly put it as “get out of their technical area”) in trying to get that little bit extra from their team.  They shout, rant, rave, point, gesticulate, point and pout in a vain attempt to influence what is going on during play. 

Some managers seem to have individual styles that have peculiar idiosyncrasies.  Claudio Ranieri, for example, sounds like Ronnie Ronalde (“there’s one for the teenagers” © Hawksbee and Jacobs … ask your Grand-dad) as he whistles up a storm on the touchline.  For all the world, he appears to be calling sheepdogs in for their trial (which isn’t far from the truth for some of his squad) rather than issuing instructions to his team.  Perhaps he feels it is easier to imitate the birdsong of the Lesser Speckled Warbler than to try and get his point across in his broken English !! 

Some, like Howard Wilkinson, prefer the Sergeant Major attitude of standing bolt upright and yelling orders from the bench.  His previously studious style has gone out of the window as Sunderland have slipped down the league (or should that be just stayed down the bottom of it ?).  No wonder they call him Sgt. Wilko. 

West Ham United manager Glenn Roeder adopts the arms-crossed technique that seems to say, “whatever is happening I am calm”.   The one give-away to his attitude is the way he turns away from the pitch, every time something goes wrong.  This is why he spends the majority of the game facing away from the pitch.  Which makes him one of the lucky ones !!  Underneath that impassive exterior is a raging torrent of anger that one day will explode in a monotone “tirade” of slowly delivered and carefully thought out words that mind-numbingly explain why he shouldn’t have got the sack from the Upton Park hot-seat. 

Some sit impassively, like Arsene Wenger.  Why is this ?  Could it be that he is thinking out new and wondrous tactics in that professorial head of his ?  Or is it merely that he is training his eyes to try and catch a glimpse of what is actually happening on the pitch ?  His vocalisations to his players probably go unheeded anyway, because the English ones will not understand his accent above the roar of silence at The Library. 

Others such as Sam Allardyce and Harry Bassett have shown on TV documentaries, that their antics give them an increased heart rate and that all that expressed energy doesn’t really help them at all.  Most managers let off steam by taking it out on the linesman (“Did you see that linesman ?  He’s cost me my job, can you tell him that ?”) or the fourth official.  I knew there was a reason for the Fourth official to be there. 

But what of our own management team ?  How do they fare in this sphere ?  Well, Gorman is often sent out to give instruction to the players or to have a fight with Gordon Strachan, but Hoddle usually comes down to the touchline in the second half or earlier when things are not working out. 

Hoddle is the master of tic-tac.  His hand signals are totally baffling to the untrained eye … and probably to most players too !!  Whether he is indicating that he wants to change to a three at the back (three fingers raised) or that he wants people to concentrate (points to temples with both hands), he has a number of signals that he employs to get his message across.  Rarely does he go in for the Ranieri whistle, although that was much favoured by Stewart Houston (wash my mouth out). 

Now there was a man engulfed by enough gestures to talk the hind leg off a deaf person !!  Some of the moves he exhibited and shapes he threw would have put him in the World Disco Dancing Champion 1976 class.  Whether it was the hands rotating over each other (indicating more effort) or the hands crossing over each other (indicating more effort), the coach was more animated than anything that was going on in the match.  His mentor GG also used his hands to good effect and I don’t mean accepting payments from agents.  His whistling and pointing could have been the grounding for Tim Sherwood’s future career in coaching. 

Hoddle often pulls out the one where he holds up his two index fingers and crosses them in front of each other.  I have no idea what this indicates, but when I was little it used to mean “Fly away Peter, Fly away Paul”.  Perhaps the names have been changed to Sergei and Tim ??


Back to homepage