Former Derby boss Jim Smith was a genius at man-management – lots are good tactically but it’s still the biggest thing

THE SAD passing of my old Derby manager Jim Smith this week has sent me down memory lane.

I was with Jim at Derby for two seasons, and when he signed me in 2000 I had only played a handful of Premier League games.

Raymonds Press Agency

Jim Smith (centre) brought Danny Higginbotham (left) to Derby County in 2000[/caption]

As a 21-year-old who had been with Manchester United since the age of ten, it was a real risk to sign me — it was the first time I had been exposed to the Premier League on a weekly basis.

But I went on to have an unbelievable experience at the club and that was all down to Jim and his man-management.

He was a genius in that perspective. It is not until you get older and have different managers that it gives you time to appreciate how good he was.

He had a knack of knowing when a player needed a chat and called you into his office at the right time.

I remember we were going to Old Trafford knowing we needed a win from one of our last two games. I was walking to the bus holding an autobiography.

One of our key players Taribo West was suspended, and Jim turned to me and went, ‘You’d best hope you’re reading Taribo’s Bible, as you’re going to need some divine spirit today’.

He also created this incredible environment, from Eric Steele, the goalkeeping coach, to the two physios John McKeown and Neil Sillett to John Davidson the kit man.

He would join in training with his flat cap and old school shorts on and tell us how he was a record goalscorer.

And then the staff would come out for drinks with us and Jim didn’t mind that because he knew they would be keeping us in check.

Jim taught me just how important man-management was.

Smith, who also had spells in charge of Blackburn, QPR, Newcastle and Portsmouth, led Derby to the Premiership in 1997
Hulton Archive – Getty

You have a lot of tactically fantastic managers now. We look at the pitch and really scrutinise them for not adapting to modern systems. Tactics are important up to a point.

But the biggest thing is to be a good man-manager, and only a certain number of them can get the best out of their players.

It’s no coincidence that arguably the two best managers in the world in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are also the best man-managers. That’s how tough it is.

It’s perhaps why the likes of Unai Emery struggled at Arsenal — a lack of English meant connection and communication with his players cost him.

In recent years we’ve seen clubs opting for more inspirational communicative coaches who can relate to their players.

I remember Duncan Ferguson said in his first Everton press conference something along the lines of, ‘I’ve got to get these players back onside’.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought into United to get that reaction out of players who looked to have lost that love for the club.

Frank Lampard and Brendan Rodgers are also showing how trust on the touchline can be as important as trust in the style of play.

Tactics are always evolving but sometimes we forget that man-management is as well.

Jim was one of the masters and his passing should remind us that management is more than just tactics and systems.

You have to be a person as well.

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