- While not all top-level sportsmen translate to great coaches, there are enough examples to suggest a speedy transition is acceptable, argues Herman Mostert.
- This comes after question marks were raised over the appointment of Mark Boucher as Proteas coach.
- The former wicketkeeper-batsman only possesses a Level 2 coaching certificate but there are examples of how players were fast-tracked into the coaching booth with great success.
Should it be acceptable for a world-class sportsman to be fast-tracked into a head coaching position?
This pertinent question has come to the fore after rumblings at embattled Cricket South Africa (CSA).
Amid the recent tensions, a few questions were raised over the appointment of Proteas head coach Mark Boucher.
Boucher wasn’t picked entirely from left field. He enjoyed a successful stint as Titans coach, but the fact that he only possesses a Level 2 coaching certificate was brought to the fore.
His appointment also appeared hasty and came shortly after his former team-mate and captain Graeme Smith was named CSA’s director of cricket.
For me, criticisms laid at the doors of both Boucher and Smith are unfair.
There are numerous examples across various sporting codes of star athletes making seamless transitions into coaching or management without climbing the ladder, as would be required of someone less well known.
The best example from cricket is South Africa’s Gary Kirsten, who landed arguably the most lucrative coaching position in the game when he was named India coach in 2008.
Apart from running his own academy, Kirsten had no coaching experience at the top level in the game.
But he was a respected former Proteas opening batsman, who amassed more than 7 000 runs in 101 Tests, averaging 45.
Kirsten was revered by the Indian cricket fraternity and that was enough to be named head coach of their national team.
It no doubt paid off as “Gazza” led India to the World Cup title in 2011, their first since 1983.
Today, Kirsten is one of the most sought-after coaches in international cricket and boasts vast experience, having also coached South Africa, as well as Indian Premier League and Australian Big Bash League outfits.
When comparing the Kirsten and Boucher appointments, it makes a mockery of the notion that the latter was not yet ready for the Proteas top job.
Boucher was a legendary player, having played 147 Tests and 295 ODIs over a 15-year international career.
The intellectual knowledge he gained during that time was invaluable and it would be daft to cite a lack of coaching certificates and experience as reasons for questioning his appointment.
He did, after all, achieve instant success when he was thrust into the role as Titans coach in 2016 without any prior coaching experience. He led the Centurion-based franchise to five domestic titles – two One Day Cups, two T20 Challenge titles and one four-day Sunfoil Series trophy.
The same argument can be made against those questioning the merits of Smith’s elevation to CSA’s director of cricket post.
“Biff”, who was the youngest ever Proteas captain at 22, will go down as one of the best leaders the country has ever produced. His playing career at the top spanned 12 years and included 117 Tests and 197 ODIs, most of those as skipper.
This “jumping the queue” is also prevalent in other major sporting codes.
In tennis, Boris Becker came straight from the commentary booth to coach Novak Djokovic.
Becker, a six-time Grand Slam champion, had no prior coaching experience but helped the Serb to six Grand Slams and 14 Masters 1000 titles between 2014 and 2016.
Ivan Lendl, who won eight Grand Slams, came on board to coach Andy Murray at the start of the 2012 season.
Murray had struggled to win a Grand Slam, losing his first three finals, and got a man on board who could relate to that. Lendl lost the first four major finals he contested before finally breaking his duck at the 1984 French Open, when he overcame a two-set deficit to beat John McEnroe in the final.
Under Lendl’s tutelage, Murray also lost his fourth major final – against Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2012 – but the drought was broken a few months later when he beat Djokovic to win the US Open.
Lendl had not coached a frontline tennis player before, but he understood the road to the top better than most. He had something to offer Murray that you can’t find in a coaching manual, and the Scot also went on to win Wimbledon in 2013 under Lendl’s watch.
Soccer is another example, and here current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is perhaps the best example.
Guardiola had a distinguished playing career as captain of Barcelona. After retiring, Guardiola briefly coached Barcelona B in 2007, with whom he won a Tercera División (fourth level of Spanish football) title, before assuming control of the first team in 2008. In his first season as Barcelona manager, he guided them to a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble.
As is evident in the above-mentioned examples, it’s not at all uncommon for a distinguished sportsman to move quickly into the coaching hot seat.
Given all that’s transpired at CSA of late, maybe it’s time to heed the advice of the organisation’s president Chris Nenzani by not creating a “witch-hunt” against certain individuals.
Herman Mostert is a long-time Sport24 employee. His sporting interests range from tennis, rugby, cricket and golf to soccer.
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