Lack of self-belief crushed Kean
I once had a boss who said to a hapless employee of his and a colleague of mine: “I hate to mix business and pleasure … but you’re sacked.” It’s funny how pressure situations or difficult scenarios can be handled so well or so badly by different people.
It always interests me to see how managers deal with pressure and how they express their feelings, depending on the amount of stress that they are experiencing. I have stayed away from contributing to the Steve Kean arguments at Blackburn Rovers, of which there have been many … but something strange has happened. He has been “forced” to resign.
Kean, under the fiercest of pressure last year, was quiet, optimistic and rational. The oddity is that, under pressure again this year and possibly the width of a red card away from a sacking as soon as the season started, he was … well, quiet, optimistic and rational.
Now, a lot can be read into the fact that this “Stepford Wives” manager was refusing to get ruffled, whether it be by the constant Press speculation or the hateful supporters, to whom he was as popular as a Bhangra playing DJ at the BNP Christmas bash.
Why was Kean not showing the pronounced ups and downs we see with pressured managers?
Well, to me, it all starts with the lowlights of his career. His own footballing talents saw his career more “on and off” than the light in Vanessa Feltz’s fridge. He then gained a string of coaching jobs, with average success, and – lo and behold – next found himself managing a Premier League football team. The only person ever to be given that honour having never managed any team, at any level, before.
Watching and having worked with managers under pressure before, Kean seemed to feel that every day in the job was a blessing. He appeared to want to make a fist of it but never really quite had the self-belief. It takes confidence to manage at that level but the knockbacks come quick, hard and fast. You can lose three games in the space of a week.
The dressing-room has “big personality” players who need to be managed. The chairman who smiled so enthusiastically as you held either end of the club scarf for the cameras on signing day is the one who knows that he will also sack you at some stage. The Premier League is no place for the a manager who’s “happy to be here”.
I don’t think that the lack of emotion was a lack of passion but a lack of having the confidence to express himself. Did we ever see the real Kean? Or was he hidden behind cliches and well-trodden “dust ourselves down and try again” phrases?
Pressure and stress often bring out our real personalities. We become people we usually are not or, more accurately, the people we actually are; a caricature of how we really want to treat the world. But we never really saw that with Kean … unless we looked closer. Suppressing our frustration and anger can be a little like squeezing putty – it doesn’t go away, it just comes out somewhere else.
Would Kean have ever been caught drink driving if he wasn’t under the pressure he was at the time? Would he ever have felt the need to deride “Big Sam” Allardyce in a bar publicly if there wasn’t a need to feel better about himself?
Kean may well have learnt a lot about managing from his tenure at the bottom of the Premier League – or, indeed, his short spell at the top of the Championship – but where his greatest gain could be is in understanding that in the words of Jesse J – “It’s OK not to be OK.”
Thankfully, fans and players want to see passion and personality; they also want to see thoughtful tactics, expertise and results. But at least, for managers under pressure, this gives them the green light to release some of the stress by being themselves.
Of course, I understand that managers don’t want to come across as weak by showing their stresses and strains. But as political figures and celebrities have known for a long time, we warm to a bit of honesty and emotional engagement.