Paul Tisdale on why managers not coaches could be in fashion again

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, former Exeter and MK Dons boss Paul Tisdale reveals his future plans and explains why he believes managers rather than coaches could be in vogue again...

MK Dons manager Paul Tisdale

It is a light-hearted moment in an hour-long conversation in which the 47-year-old former Exeter City and MK Dons manager outlines his vision for management, discusses his various new business ventures, and reveals his plans for a move back into management, perhaps even as far afield as Major League Soccer in the United States.

His first thoughts right now are with the NHS and those suffering in this crisis but there is no denying that he is enthusiastic about returning to work. The man who was once the longest-serving manager in English football now finds himself on the outside looking in.

"I am ambitious to work at the highest level despite turning down a lot of big jobs to stay at Exeter," he says of the club where he spent 12 years, winning two promotions.

"I am almost seen as only a League One or League Two manager now because I turned those clubs down. It is nonsense. I am just a football manager who chose to commit to a club, but that is possibly how it is viewed.

"In America it is seen very differently. They are very open minded and the coach is king because all of the budgets are very even so the best one wins. That is what I love about it. The rules make it a level playing field and it comes down to getting the best from people and I like to think that is my thing. I just see that as a very big opportunity out there.

"I went out to the United States for the opening week of MLS and interviewed various agents before choosing the best one for me. I also met two sets of people in New York who buy football clubs. In fact, I was speaking to a club before it all shut down and I have also had offers from clubs to go in as a general manager. That is a role I will probably take at some point if not now.

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"I fancy MLS because in terms of English football I have become very niche in terms of what I do. A lot of clubs have gone down the route of having a director of football, a head of recruitment and a head coach. I am someone who has a broad set of skills and I feel I can add value in all of those areas.

"I think I am one of the very few managers who have a clear view of the business element of the club. It is not just football for me. I suppose that puts me in a small minority."

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Tisdale earned widespread acclaim for defying the odds at Exeter while running all aspects of the football operation, but his more recent experience at MK Dons was challenging. After delivering another promotion in his first season, his contract was terminated in November.

"We took a team that had been relegated twice in three years and won an automatic promotion with more or less the same players," he explains.

"My closest colleagues think it was the best year of my managerial career. We were managing players who were on a big spiral. To take a group where the atmosphere was toxic after relegation and turn that into a promotion season was a big highlight for me."

But after a poor run of results in the midst of an injury crisis, he was dismissed. Asked what he has learned from the experience, Tisdale chooses his words carefully.

"MK taught me that what I had at Exeter - a clear understanding of the business - helps with every decision. The strength of a clear business plan cannot be underestimated."

Image: Paul Tisdale guided MK Dons to promotion in his first season with the club

This focus on the business side of management does separate Tisdale from many of his contemporaries and with the trend seemingly towards coaches rather than managers that could be a problem. But there is logic behind the theory that this trend could soon reverse.

"A lot of the clubs are looking at the number of the staff they have doing all of these jobs and they are now thinking that they are spending money that they cannot afford," says Tisdale. "The link between these departments is not necessarily very good so they are now looking for someone who can manage the whole department rather than separating it.

"I think the economics are going to be very difficult over the next six months. There is going to be a lot of damage coming. With these three jobs - head coach, head of recruitment and chief executive - it is not necessarily three times the work for someone to do all three. The whole thing is so intertwined and if you have a grasp of the business then you can do it."

But does he understand the reluctance to trust managers with this overarching role?

"The reason why a lot of these clubs have a director of football or a head of recruitment is precisely because they don't trust the manager," he acknowledges.

"The reason why clubs don't trust the manager is because he will look after himself. He will have a couple of good results and leave for a bigger job as soon as he gets the chance.

"He won't think of the best interests of the club like I did at Exeter. He won't make the best decisions for the club, he will make the best decisions for him because if he loses three games then he is going to get the sack so he may as well look after himself. This is a very transitory business. So clubs want someone who can provide continuity.

"The trouble with that is that the manager cannot get any leverage. The performances on the pitch are partly because of tactics but they are mainly achieved because everybody is motivated and pulling in the same direction. It is difficult for a manager to make that happen if he doesn't have a feel for the player's contract situation and so on.

"The recruitment is all linked in to that because it is the personal relationships that help a manager get the maximum from his players. Without that, with the head coach scenario, it is all a little bit anodyne, a little bit two dimensional. You do not have that connection. Maybe it will come my way again in the next six to 12 months with the finances."

Tisdale played in the Premier League for Southampton, embarking on a nomadic career that took in stints in Finland and Greece before making a home in the south west.

But despite his playing background, it is not the matches at a weekend that he is missing. It is the thrill of building a football club. The buzz of management is what drives him.

I actually never had an interest in being solely a coach. Not for one day when I played professionally did I want that. The job of a manager is so much more. The tactics are just a game of Top Trumps.
Paul Tisdale

"The coaching part, the bit that everyone thinks is your job, is no more than five to 10 per cent of it," he explains. "I actually never had an interest in being solely a coach. Not for one day when I played professionally did I want that. The job of a manager is so much more. The tactics are just a game of Top Trumps. That is how I see it.

"If you do your job properly it is business and management. Managing a football club is 90 per cent communication, nurturing talent, risk-management, analytics, and all the things any business would talk about. My job is more chemistry than sport. It is about creating something that gets as much as possible from the talent for as little money as possible."

Football club bosses are always going to be interested in that.

For now though, Tisdale must wait. But that doesn't mean he is not busy.

There is the analytics platform that he is building with coaches in mind because too many stats services are "like getting a report without the doctor telling you what it means".

There is the education programme he is writing on leadership in business.

But there will be another job in management too.

"I have been more busy than I could imagine since leaving MK, working every day. I am just spinning as many plates as I can. I am still only 47 so I think I have many years left."

For Paul Tisdale, the merry-go-round will be spinning again soon.

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