If anyone in soccer has bags and bags of “been there, done that,” it is certainly Gordon Jago.
Jago was a successful center back in England’s top flight before launching a long and even more rewarding coaching career, one that eventually took him to the United States. Now 82, Jago only recently left his post as Dr Pepper Dallas Cup executive director (although he continues to serve actively as an ambassador.)
Here are some of the lessons of his decades in soccer, in his own words, as told to Steve Davis:
I had a good upbringing from my father. And I had one particularly good school teacher. I had good success at youth soccer, and it would have been easy for me to become big-headed. But the teacher wouldn’t let me. What he was doing, he was keeping me under control. He was saying, “You’re doing alright, but you have to accept it a certain way.” And my father was doing the same thing. So I was darned lucky that way.
At age 18 I had the good fortune to be selected for England’s under-20 team. And later I played six full international games. So I saw brilliant organization; the FA did everything absolutely top class. We had itinerary books presented to us, all players and staff were listed, every detail noted. The hotel. The travel details. You were issued currency and labels for luggage. It was brilliantly organized from the moment you assembled. So I saw how to organize and prepare a team; the discipline, meal times, travel, even down to small key rings we had to give to the players of our opponents.
Then I signed pro with Charlton, and got the opposite! It was a good, friendly club in terms of the players, the camaraderie and atmosphere. But it was bare essentials from the club. All you knew was what time to report to the ground to get on the bus. And then there were some situations within the club, lots of little things like that I was learning what not to do.
The first coaching position after I was finished playing was an amateur club. We only trained two nights a week. Because this wasn’t a high-profile club, so I was able to make mistakes without too many people knowing.
I was honest with the press at all times. And I think that gained me respect. So perhaps they might not have been as harsh on me as they may have been with other coaches. At that time, there was almost an attitude of “them vs. us” between press and club officials. I went the other way.
The pressures are great. You learned how to handle the pressure, because if you did not you were soon out of the job.
The Baltimore Bays was my first position in the United States. I didn’t learn anything about soccer, but I learned a ton about marketing and promotion. They were owned by the Orioles; I was there in 1970 when they won the World Series, so it was a great time to be there.
I never had after-game inquests in the locker room. It was always a very brief talk. If we’d lost it was, “Hey, go away and think about your performance and we’ll talk about it tomorrow morning.” Or, “Well done. Excellent performance!” Or I might say, “It was a great victory, there are still a few things, but we’ll talk about it later.” But no conversations. I never allowed players to get into arguments and such.
I learned this from my father: you treat other people as you would like them to treat you. I think that has served me well.
I was never afraid to walk into the locker room and say, “Put that one down to me.” I would openly admit it to the players. Perhaps for the wrong selections, the wrong substitutions, the wrong tactics or whatever. I had the courage to say it. Because if something has gone wrong that’s down to you, the players know it. So I think you have to be prepared to put your hand up and say, “My responsibility.” I think I earned the respect of players by doing that. There was an honesty between you and your players, and that was very important.
If you have a suspect character, well, try to win him over first. But if it doesn’t work, then don’t take too long with him.
If a player was not my type, I would quietly say something to him like, ‘It probably isn’t going to work, and I’m going to do my best to find you another club.’
I took great pains to find out as much about a player as I could. We used to joke, if we were going to buy a new player, we wanted to know the color of the pajamas he wore. We wanted to know everything about him. Because his performance was one thing, but we wanted to know about his character. That was important, too.
Joe Mercer [longtime English manager] once told me, “If the owner has money to spend on players, spend it! But spend it wisely. Because if you don’t, and you don’t succeed, you’re out and the next fellow will spend it!” All those little things like that, they added up.
I never publicly criticized a player. Never, ever. I might criticize the team, but never a player publicly.
Troublemakers in the locker room are easy to spot. Then you have to decide their value to you. Are you prepared to accept some of their behavior if you feel it is warranted to give you a good team performance?
You need team togetherness, need that camaraderie. Often you can have a lesser team, but if they have a good attitude and a good spirit together, they’ll pull you through! We saw that with the Sidekicks in 1987 when we won the championship. They weren’t the best team, not by a long shot. But by dingy, we had a great squad and they were ‘All for one, one for all,’ and it showed.
I had one player in Dallas that I paid a lot of money for. We got him in, but it didn’t take long to realize he was not right for us. He was a troublemaker. I went to Mr. Carter [owner Don Carter] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ And he said, “Get rid of him, we’ll cover the loss in other ways.” That was the support of a terrific owner.
The MLS to me is doing it right financially. They are doing a great job. I just hope they don’t make the mistake of over-spending for older players, the way we saw it happen in the North American Soccer League.
The only one fear I have about MLS about the moment: I still fear they are making the same mistake the NASL made in that they are expanding too quickly. We don’t have enough good players coming through to warrant that number of teams, so the standard of teams isn’t going to rise. … I am seeing very ordinary players in MLS are moving club to club to club. The other clubs take them because there is nobody else.
I would always take time to speak to the supporters in the terraces. My wife would sometimes say I take too much time doing that! But they are fans, and you never know what you might learn.
My father worked for 50 years with one company, and he did not enjoy working for that one company. But he grew up in the Depression, he had a family, he had commitments … and in those times, jobs weren’t always available. He was never able to walk away from that job. He didn’t enjoy it, and couldn’t wait for Friday nights. So I learned from him to try to enjoy every day. And if you aren’t enjoying it, just move on. Don’t just bear it. Maybe you have a family and you cannot at that moment. But if you can, move on to something you enjoy. Enjoyment of profession is important and is the advice I always give to young people.