The world of football is of media for fans to consume.
If there isn’t a live game to watch, you could easily spend your day with Sky Sports News HQ on in the background, listening to one of the multiple football podcasts, reading the latest features and match reports on your laptop, while flicking through the views of your favourite football journalists on social media. And if you fancy spending your time even more wisely, you can also Tweet about your team’s misfortunes before having to quickly delete these posts when they go ahead.
That isn’t just an insight into how we spend a large part of our Christmas break but also an insight into just how many options there are for football fans right now. So we’d perhaps be forgiven over at PrettyGreen Towers for thinking the chances of someone developing a new platform that offers something different for football fans to consume were slim.
However, when we heard that there was a new website launching that would essentially be a platform for elite coaches and managers to discuss the beautiful game, it would have two of our favourite sports journalists in charge and even has the backing of an ex-Chelsea and Manchester United Chief Executive, we changed our minds faster than Philippe Coutinho ran to Liverpool airport once Barcelona’s offer had been accepted.
The Coaches’ Voice launches today, with Tony Hodson as Head of Content and Sarah Shephard as Deputy Head of Content, so we had a quick chat with Sarah to find out what it’s all about.
So what exactly is The Coaches’ Voice?
The Coaches’ Voice is a new football website that provides a platform for elite coaches and managers in the game to discuss their unique journeys, philosophies and ideas. Everything you read and watch on The Coaches’ Voice comes direct from the managers, so there’s no spin or contrived sensationalism, just the genuine thoughts and insight of the individuals who devote their lives to the game. In keeping with the theme of providing tactical insight, the site will also provide detailed match reports on a minimum of two big games a week, compiled by a team of top Spanish coaches.
How did you and Tony come together to work on this?
After the closure of Sport magazine early last year, I spent three months working at The Times, while Tony enjoyed a period of ‘gardening leave,’ that allowed him to explore what he wanted to do next. During this period, he was put in touch with Peter Kenyon (the former Chief Executive of Manchester United and Chelsea) who, together with his business partner, had been working on the idea of a new football website dedicated to managers and coaches. They decided Tony was the right person to take the website forward in terms of content and shortly afterwards I got a call from him asking if I would be interested in joining him. It was a no-brainer for me. I’ve always been fascinated by what separates the very best coaches from the good ones, and the good ones from the not-so-good ones. And I was excited by the idea of producing feature-led content that seeks to get to the heart of all the challenges and complexities of coaching.
You’ve both come from fairly traditional ‘print’ journalism backgrounds, is the switch to an online publication a conscious decision?
Yes and no! It was a combination of an ever-shrinking print journalism scene, meaning there are precious few opportunities around and the knowledge that there are far more possibilities for progress and expansion in the digital realm.
Do you think that the growing trend of ‘click bait’ stories has added more pressure to journalists to turn articles round quickly and perhaps removed some quality control?
I think the ‘click bait’ trend is more responsible for taking the focus away from what should be the real purpose of journalism: to uncover stories and report the facts. Instead, many are under pressure to produce pieces that are purely designed to hook readers in, often regardless of whether they are factually correct.
The clamour to ‘be first’ on social media is probably more responsible for the pressure on journalists to turn articles around quickly. In doing so, some prioritise getting the piece online over getting things right.
What do recent impactful interviews, like Daniel Taylor’s for The Guardian, have on the industry as a whole?
I think it raises the bar for everyone, really. And it proves that being a trustworthy, honest voice in the industry ultimately pays off because people are far more likely to come to you when they have something important to say.
Who is your dream Manager to interview for Coaches’ Voice?
Well, considering I spent my 10 (and a bit) years at Sport magazine trying to secure time with Arsene Wenger it has to be the Arsenal manager. He’s a fascinating character and someone who is comfortable sharing his thoughts on a wide range of topics, from football to politics and economics.
What unique qualities do successful managers have to get to the top?
I’m still finding out! But from those I have had the honour of sitting down with so far, I’d say that the ability to communicate well is a major key. Being able to transmit your ideas to a group of players – and staff – from varying backgrounds, many of whom will absorb information in different ways, is a real skill.
Why do you think there are still so few black managers and how can this change?
I don’t think there is one simple answer to either of these questions. One of the major issues is that there is obviously a belief among black players that there will be no opportunities for them to have a career in coaching or management. And it’s not hard to see why they would believe that, given the scarcity of black managers in the professional game. While I would love to believe that when a black candidate applies for a job their race is never part of the equation in any way, I can’t. There will obviously be instances where they are not considered right for the job for valid reasons, but when the numbers are so low it’s hard to rule out racism or unconscious bias entirely.
There has to be more done to encourage black players coming to the end of their careers to consider a career in coaching. The clubs, FA, Premier League, PFA – they should all have a role to play in this.
Is there an issue with the recruitment process at clubs? Probably. One manager (who works abroad) recently told me that after years of being turned down for jobs he has given up going to interviews in England, believing that clubs already know who they want and are simply ‘going through the process.’
So, it’s not simple, but it is one of the most important issues facing the game. In 2018, it’s shocking that you can count on one hand the number of black managers in the Football League.
And finally, what is your ultimate goal for 2018 with The Coaches’ Voice?
To firmly establish the brand as being the voice of elite coaches and managers from around the world and deliver content of the highest quality that provides a genuine insight into the game.