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Johnson suffers weight of expectations

MARTIN Johnson, the glowering giant at the heart of his country's most successful rugby side, is the latest English sporting hero to suffer from unrealistic expectations in a new and unfamiliar role.

As a captain, Johnson was an uncompromisingly tough lock forward who led by example rather than stirring rhetoric. Now, as manager of a team in steady decline since he led them to World Cup glory in 2003, Johnson faces a fresh set of problems and pressures without having served an apprenticeship as either coach or manager.

A glance at the fortunes of his contemporaries in Premier League soccer will offer no solace to Johnson at the midpoint of the Six Nations championship campaign.

Already this season, Paul Ince and Tony Adams have been dismissed as managers of Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth, respectively, while former Ireland international Roy Keane has resigned from the Sunderland job.

A common denominator the trio share with Johnson is a lack of sustained management experience. Like Johnson their appointments were due primarily to their prowess as players.

Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Economics at Cass Business School at London's City University, has written extensively about management in sport.

Szymanski said managers did not necessarily make much difference to the outcome of a match.

"It's not silly to appoint Martin Johnson as coach, it's silly to expect that Martin Johnson will be a great England coach or manager just because he was a great player," he said.

Coaching skills

"He surely needs management and, arguably, coaching skills as well in order to be an effective manager. The question is whether the English system is effective in ensuring that potentially great managers are properly trained."

Szymanski said in his view English rugby needed a proper management structure.

"In New Zealand the whole structure is built around the All Blacks winning whereas the RFU (Rugby Football Union) is not an organization that can dictate the whole effort of English rugby towards England winning," he said.

"It makes an enormous difference. It's also true of the England football team. The entire French football system can be dedicated to the triumph of the French football team and that's been very effective in recent years.

"Eventually you take into account the institutional constraints. I would say it's much more about institutions than it is about people. I think it's crazy to think that success in any complex activity is down to one individual. It's a team-management effort."

But in one of his reports he did mention that teams perform substantially better if led by a "coach who was, in his day, an outstanding player."

Johnson would concur after six matches in charge during which England have lost to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Wales offset by wins over modest opposition in the shape of the Pacific Islanders and Italy.

"I'm aware that there's a perception that if I'm involved it will all be okay," he said after his appointment last April. "But that's not the reality and it never was. We all want our heroes and our myths and our legends but the reality of why we were successful was not solely or even mainly due to me being captain."


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