Brendan O'Brien: Finding balance between ‘Faz’ and ‘Boss’

Bob Paisley didn’t want the job of Liverpool manager in 1974.

Brendan O'Brien: Finding balance between ‘Faz’ and ‘Boss’

Bob Paisley didn’t want the job of Liverpool manager in 1974.

Already 55, he had served the club as player, physio, coach, and assistant manager through almost 30 years by the time Bill Shankly cleared out his office — but then-club secretary Peter Robinson had a “frightful” time prompting him out from the wings and on to centre stage.

Legend has it that when Paisley stood before his team for the first time, it was to assure them that he was merely holding the baton until someone who knew better could relieve him of it.

Turned out he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. The legend of the Anfield ‘boot room’ was born, and the club’s days as a European powerhouse were about to dawn.

Andy Farrell would probably draw some comfort from that.

The new Ireland head coach wasn’t shy in taking over from Joe Schmidt, but his job is much the same as Paisley’s was all those years ago — take on a high-achieving team and elevate them to even greater heights.

In Ireland’s case, that will mean nothing less than World Cup success.

The reality of modern coaching is such that Farrell’s tenure will have to be deemed a success if he just lasts long enough in the job to make France 2023, but the omens are good.

Ireland’s last four head coaches have spent an average of roughly five-and-a-half years in the job.

Not since Brian Ashton’s traumatic 12-month spell have divorce proceedings been instigated with unseemly haste.

There are no guarantees either way.

For every Eddie O’Sullivan or Jose Mourinho — men who have stepped up from their roles to achieve big things — there has been a Carlos Queiros or a Brian Kidd who found the job of integrating the thousand little jobs that come with being a head coach about as easy as herding a bag of wild cats.

What’s equal parts exciting and nerve-shredding about all this is the uncertainty. Farrell ticks a comforting amount of boxes, and yet this is a gig he has never done before.

It’s not impossible that he could do everything right and still see it go horribly wrong due to circumstances beyond his control.

Even the bounce of the ball can’t be predicted in rugby.

Four years under Stuart Lancaster with England played a large part of his education and preparation for this role, so it was timely that the BBC’s Chris Jones should have hopped over to Dublin earlier this week to conduct a 50-minute interview with the Leinster senior coach for the Rugby Weekly Podcast.

Always a fascinating speaker, there was a trail of nuggets dropped about life as a head coach in the Test arena.

“It’s a 100% managerial role,” said Lancaster, who estimated that he had spent the vast majority of his time on leadership and management issues and only 10% on actually coaching the team itself.

This is the shift in dynamic that faces Farrell.

Some people scouring through the innards of his first squad selection on Wednesday didn’t detect enough in the way of change, but evolution was always going to be the course with the playing personnel, given the revolution that will have to take place in Farrell’s own mind.

Lancaster didn’t describe it as a regret when he spoke to the BBC this week, but he did talk about the fact that he hadn’t worked with a team manager whilst with England.

This was a role whose importance he stressed more than most when sitting down with Eddie Jones soon after the Australian succeeded him.

Ireland, interestingly, seem set on abandoning the post and integrating the duties elsewhere.

Maybe the most delicate task awaiting Farrell right now is one of tone.

Most of the players in his squad will have spent years working under Joe Schmidt, whose approach was famously fussy.

Ireland experienced great days under the Kiwi’s unforgiving eye, but there was a sense during and after the World Cup that a less intense approach was required.

That being the case then, Farrell has to find a way to relax the screws while still asserting his own authority.

He has to discover the middle ground between ‘Faz’ and ‘Boss’,retain the hard edge in playing style and attention to detail that Schmidt ingrained while, at the same time, laying a foundation for a squad that can express itself more openly on and off the pitch.

These are the Catch-22s facing a head coach who must now be all things to all men. He must assume a plethora of new duties while learning to delegate.

He has to maintain cordial relationships with this high-achieving squad, and yet steel himself to those tough selection conversations which Schmidt always said was the worst part of the gig.

“He is more than prepared to have those conversations, and he will always be honest and open with the players,” said Lancaster.

“He spent eight years — four years with me and four years with Joe — watching and listening and deciding what he would do if he was in that situation. So I think he is more than ready to do the job.”

We’ll soon see.

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