02 Jul 2015
GARRY MONK: LIKE A SWAN TO WATER
Having played for Swansea City for a decade, Garry Monk knew the club and its players inside out when he took the manager's job. But few could have anticipated how comfortable he would be at the helm or how successfully he would handle his first full season in charge.
While Garry Monk's first taste of management came only in February 2014, like many player-turned-managers, the idea of taking the helm had been seeded much earlier.
“I started thinking seriously about preparing to coach or manage when I suffered a bad knee injury at 26,” he says. He was fortunate to make a full recovery and went on to play for Swansea for almost 10 years, but it was also a period of preparation. “I took my coaching qualifications, watched and analysed games and closely observed my managers at the club to understand how and why they did things,” says Monk. These managers included Paolo Sousa, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup, who he eventually replaced in 2014 when he was appointed Swansea's interim manager.
Some in Monk's shoes – still fit and young – might have considered a longer spell as player-manager, but his mindset was now very much in the management camp. “It wouldn’t have worked for me to be in there among the players training and playing, because you then can’t observe everything with the clarity you need as a manager,” he says.
However carefully an aspiring manager has prepared, when opportunity finally knocks it can be a shock to the system, but the fact that Monk was already happily ensconced at Swansea and knew the dynamics of the club inside out meant there were fewer surprises.
“Under those kinds of circumstances, there will always be a sense of being thrown in at the deep end, but I felt comfortable in the role straight away and wasn’t overwhelmed by the sudden change,” says Monk. “I knew the players and the staff well and understood the club culture and the immediate concerns that we'd need to address,” he adds. “For example, we’d been on a poor run of form and confidence was pretty low, so as well as working on the coaching side, I knew we'd need to prioritise building the players' confidence back up. It was essential that I could persuade them to believe in themselves so that we could finish the remainder of the season strongly.”
Monk certainly didn't have the luxury of being able to ease into the role of manager; Swansea were experiencing a rare 'wobble' in results, which had seen them drop to two points above the Barclays Premier League relegation zone. What's more, his first match was against arch rivals Cardiff, and he had under a week to prepare. Swansea came away with a 3-0 win. “After that I was able to turn my attention to the remaining months of the season and plan for the weeks ahead,” he says. “I made it very clear to the players what we were aiming for and what we would do each week towards that and I think having that common plan and mindset helped us regain and build on our stability.”
Despite the uphill challenge and his leadership inexperience, Monk remained focused and drew on his connection with the club and its players to pull them out of the doldrums. “I spoke to them from the heart about the club's heritage and past achievements, about how and why it had grown,” he says. “I also made sure the intensity of the training was high, so that the players didn’t have time to think or dwell on any lack of confidence. I wanted them to understand that we were now in control of the club's future.”
While Monk's close relationship with the club and its players helped him hit the ground running in terms of plans and strategy, it could easily have made his transition from one of the lads to manager a tough one. However, he made sure the change-over was a gradual one; he was clear about who was in charge, while focusing more on unifying the group and pulling together to avoid relegation than imposing his new found seniority on the group.
He even took advice on what to wear on the touchline during his first matches in charge. “I think it's important to consider visual as well as verbal communication when it comes to people's perception of you,” he says. “I chose to wear a tracksuit, as I didn’t think it would have been right at that point to stand there in a suit. It would have been detrimental for me to have gone in there acting like a manager straight away, because I had been a player just like them days before.”
When Monk was appointed Swansea's permanent manager in May 2014, however, he knew his relationship with the players would change significantly. Thankfully, having already earned their respect and support, the transition was a smooth one.
Now, with a full season behind him, Monk has a greater understanding of the scale and breadth of the job and has established his own unique style. At the core of his approach, he says, are honesty and consistency.
“I am hard but fair with the players and I demand high standards every single day,” he says. “It is important as a manager to ensure the players are professional in everything they do, from how they approach their training each day to how they execute your instructions on match day.”
Great man-management, he also realises, is central to the role, which means getting to know the players as individuals, building a rapport with them and understanding their emotions as well as their capabilities on the pitch. “You need to know what makes each individual tick and then bring them together to function as a focused team,” says Monk. “I learned a lot from Brendan Rodgers, in particular, in that area. He is great at developing footballers, but also takes a genuine interest in the players' lives off the pitch.”
The most satisfying parts of the job for Monk since he took over as manager last year have been putting his plans and methods into action, communicating them to the players without overloading them and then seeing the foundations that he has laid take effect. He also has a firm long-term strategy in place and a keen understanding of the club's culture, ethos and overall direction.
“The clarity of vision and the communication between the board and manager undoubtedly play a key role in what the club is able to achieve,” he says. “I’ve been with Swansea since the journey started under various managers, so I have a really deep understanding of what the Swansea way is. Possession and attacking football will always be our priority; it's the best way to play football and the most satisfying for the players.”
The only modification that Monk has made to the team's playing style is an ability to adapt to back-up plans if for any reason the usual possession-based approach is not working. “We’ve played some great possession football this season and when they've needed to, the players have been able to adapt comfortably.”
With the appointment of Monk, Swansea City has continued its recruitment strategy of giving opportunities to young, sometimes inexperienced, but often forward thinking managers, among them Roberto Martinez, Paolo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup.
“These are very modern managers who have blazed the trail and have opened doors for each other and the club,” says Monk. “Chairman Huw Jenkins and the club have had real vision and their approach has paid dividends. It’s a great model that has given young coaches an incredible opportunity to make an impact on the game.”
Monk says he has massive respect for the more senior managers he shares the sidelines with, but he isn't daunted by the disparity in experience. “I thoroughly enjoy speaking with them after games, because I respect their achievements and knowledge, but you can’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. When you come up against another manager, it’s like a game of chess. You both want to win and that means a tactical battle on and off the pitch, figuring out how the opposition might play and how you will counter it. I tend to get so immersed in this that it doesn’t really matter which manager I am up against; I just want to win.”
And win he has. In his first full season in charge, Monk led Swansea to an eighth-place finish, doing the double over both Manchester United and Arsenal along the way and achieving a record points tally for the club. He was also shortlisted for the LMA Manager of the Year Award, something he says was unexpected and a great honour.
“When you start out as a manager, you have to believe in what you are doing and stay focused on that, but the fact that other managers have voted for you – people who do the same job and understand how difficult it can be - gives you great confidence going forward. Getting the nod from your peers in this way gives you affirmation that what you're doing is right and that you're on the right path.”
Garry Monk was speaking to the LMA's Manager Magazine:
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