From London to New York: How 2 Football Managers Are Dealing with Isolation

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 9, 2020

B/R

For almost every manager in world football, there is uncertainty and confusion about when their teams will return to action.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the game to a standstill, and everyone's best-laid plans for the season are up in the air.

Through social media, we have been able to see how players have been dealing with these tricky times. We see them in their gardens and their homes, keeping fit, practicing skills or just messing about.

But how does a top-level manager spend these days at home during isolation?

We spoke with managers in two of the world's major cities to get an idea of just how they are coping with these strange times.

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 07:  Scott Parker, Manager of Fulham and Denis Odoi of Fulham shake hands after the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Fulham FC at Ashton Gate on March 07, 2020 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Im
Harry Trump/Getty Images

It was one month ago that Scott Parker's Fulham were focused on their push for a place in the Premier League.

This is Parker's first full season in management, and it has been going well. But days after a 1-1 draw at Bristol City—which left the west London club in third position in the Championship table—the campaign was brought to a halt.

Suddenly, from navigating the final nine matches of the season from his office at the club's Motspur Park training base, Parker is confined to the walls of his Surrey home.

"It is a bit surreal," he tells Bleacher Report. "You work for three-quarters of a season, but then after all that hard work you are brought to a halt. Obviously, we all know why, and we all realise this issue is much bigger than football, but you just have that sense remaining over when we are going back and how we are going to prepare for it."

All indications from the football authorities suggest this season will be completed. Yet at this stage, no one is exactly sure when that will be.

"I am a person who likes to set targets, but we can not really plan," Parker says. "My job is just to be honest with everyone about where we are at and what we can do right now.

"In terms of my day-to-day, I am not really keeping any of my normal routine from before all this.

"I still exercise every morning—I normally do 20 minutes on the Wattbike, and now that is more like an hour—but constantly in my head I am thinking through what dates we might go back, and I'm staying on top of the news to see how things are changing.

"I have set out roles for individual departments, so people like analysts are still working on specific things. We could be going into a season and only have four, five or six weeks to finish the season, so we are looking to see if we can get ahead in any way.

"Germany and Spain seem to be a little ahead of us, so it could be that we can grasp some sense of a timeline by looking at what is happening in those places."

Fulham are in the division's top play-off spot but can still mathematically win automatic promotion. It's a good position to be in after last season's relegation from the Premier League.

Parker, 39, took over as caretaker manager in February 2019 before taking the reins full time in May, when their fate had already been decided, so he is fairly new to all areas of being a football manager.

He is familiar with Fulham as a club, though, having spent four years there as a player and then returning as coach in 2018.

In a situation like this, he's in a similar position to every other manager; a suspension of the season, with no return date, is unprecedented.

There is no tried-and-tested approach to this scenario, yet Parker's days remain busy as he attempts to maintain his side's readiness for a run-in that will determine whether they return to the world's richest league.

"Obviously, we have WhatsApp messages and can make phone calls, so technology is helpful, and I get in touch with my coaching team and players regularly," Parker explains. "But I am conscious of not wanting to do that unless I can give them solid information. A lot of what we are hearing now about the season restarting, we can not be exactly sure about, so I'm just trying to be honest.

"One thing I have been able to do in this time is to look back at loads of bits from the season; it has been good for reflecting. 

"I've also got four sons, so I spend some time with them in the garden, but overall the main part of my day is filled with keeping players informed on where they need to be with their own schedules and setting up a structure for when we return.

"This is a strange feeling, but it's [a] strange time for everyone, no matter what line of work you are in."

***

Across the pond in New York, Ronny Deila is three months into a new job as head coach at NYCFC.

It's a different situation to that of Parker, and he is getting to grips with a new culture, a new team and a new season. MLS was just two games into a new campaign when it was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic. As it stands, play is scheduled to resume in mid-May.

For Deila, a 44-year-old Norwegian living in America for the first time, getting to know his new home so quickly was not expected.

"I moved here on January 10 but spent just four days in New York in my first six weeks," he tells Bleacher Report. "We were travelling all over in pre-season and in the [CONCACAF] Champions League, and our first two MLS games were also away from home, so it was all very busy for a month or so.

"I had a hotel room, but then on March 15, I got my apartment—and fortunately my family arrived at the last minute, just before the airports were locked down. So that was good. I got to see a little bit of the area before it all shut down, and now I walk around and exercise when I get the chance, so I am slowly seeing things.

"It is a strange time, but football-wise it was good to have five games because I got to see teams in important games, and now we get a new pre-season."

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It was not an ideal start to the season for Deila, with NYCFC losing their first two MLS games 1-0.

Yet this period in isolation has given him a unique opportunity to assess his squad.

"This time has been quite beneficial," he admits. "I have had time to look at things that I never normally would. For example, I have seen almost the whole of last season—I'm on Game 27!

"That has been very interesting. I have been able to look at the team's weaknesses and strengths, and of course I also get to see the different opposition, which has been very useful. It is very rare you would get that chance."

Deila is living in his new home in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his girlfriend and young daughter, and he is getting to grips with a day-to-day lifestyle that is unlike anything he has known in his adult life.

"In the beginning, it was frustrating, but after that you think, how will I solve this challenge? Reflection has been good for me after coaching for 13 years non-stop" he says. "I have not had one break—I went straight from playing into coaching, so it's time to rest the body a bit.

"At the moment, my daily schedule is obviously different. I FaceTime people, I use that a lot with my staff, and we also have a group chat on WhatsApp, and we have been using Zoom for conference calls. 

"One of my favourite things is the group exercises we do as a team. We do it three times a week; today we had [a] kickboxing exercise, and it was great.

"I have also been using this time to learn Spanish. I have a Colombian girlfriend and a three-year-old daughter, who also speaks Spanish, so it's important I get better. I'm not close to being fluent, but that's a goal in future. I think it will also help me in football."

Deila was formerly the manager of Celtic in Scotland's Premiership, and while this major change in lifestyle has taken some adapting, it's been a good chance to appreciate his life.

"Living in Glasgow was a big difference to here," he says. "In Glasgow, everyone knows who you are. It is a goldfish bowl. The intensity in the city when it comes to football is crazy. It's very different here. You have a private life, and I love thatit was one of the reasons I thought this was interesting for me.

"I am enjoying America, and I like the positive culture here; all of the people are positive about the situation, and you get a good feeling from them. That's not something usual where I have been before. 

"And if you are losing games here, the attitude is: 'Come on. We'll solve it.' I really like that.

"We are excited for all this to be over; it's a tough time in New York, but we hope this year is going to go our way. We know we all have to do what we are told to save people. Then, when at the end of the tunnel there is light, we want to get back to win."

               

Listen to Dean on the B/R Football Ranks podcast. New episodes every Wednesday. Subscribe here.

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