Chemistry. The blend. Knowing the human, knowing that stats aren’t everything – but, yes, that they are something. Understanding (without the thesis) the stuff about gathering the group; how there has to be both freedom and hierarchy. How there’s no algorithm for genius or leadership; nothing which stands above your feeling for the game, for the individual.
Sure, there’s process: it’s the elite coach’s mode, their first point of reference. So you attend to the process, in every respect. Players are developed, through contact, through care, through challenge. You just don’t personally buy the need for process as safety net.
You’re good; they see that you get it. They don’t need to disentangle how but later – years later, pre the book – they might talk warmly of your intuition. About how they weren’t sure what it was, at the time.
This is the picture. You carry it around. It’s palpable.
In training there’s a sustained intensity: lungs are bursting, eyes ablaze, minds trimmed and alive. You’re easy but spikily funny. You measure out – but again by instinct – the qualities of your staff. The right people are working with the right people: there’s no coasting, no wastage, no boredom. You ask the right questions. There are laughs.
You deal generously but without ego, with the media. Pretty soon – did they even notice? – there’s no flak to draw, no eyes averting, no knives. The scoops, the intimate words, the cheery beers together get shared around. When the tensions come, you snaffle them with a joke; with self-effacement; with impregnable good will. The journo’s use words like ‘remarkable’.
Everywhere, you build trust. And nobody betrays it. If they did you would judge the transgression supremely fairly, with flawless discretion and then you would act. Without bitterness or favour. Decisively.
The key is, you make things work: the environment you’ve built breeds results. Not that the team is unbeatable but it’s improving, it’s ‘ahead of the curve’ – way better than folks imagined. The players come to love you and the fans respect you. The Barmies sing songs; musically, metaphorically and whenever the chance arises, they man-hug you. You can enjoy it; we can all enjoy it.
If there was time, you’d reflect. You could’ve managed KP. And Botham. You could put Bairstow in at three, now – could make that possible by just a few words. The black dogs who’ve skulked around for aeons… you would have anticipated every raw moment. Over the years. Words would have been found.
You could get round the counties, too. Sure, there’d be moans but it would be clear; no-one’s missing, there’s no diamond left out in the sticks. You know them, you’ve watched, you’ve said hello, seen them, been in their company just enough to fix them and select.
Friends, it’s a quiet, shared, redemptive joy. Whilst we *actually work* in schools, or ‘at The Council’, or for Leyton & Co. by the bus stop on the river, this is the thing: we all know better than the England Coach.