er England international Trevor Steven enjoyed a successful spell at Marseille, where he won the French first division. Here he identifies the challenges facing former Manchester United manager David Moyes, who has agreed to become coach of Spanish club Real Sociedad.
Speaking Spanish will be the biggest barrier the Scot encounters in San Sebastian, though that doesn’t mean he has to become fluent overnight.
Some managers, such as Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, have ample time to prepare for new roles and can immerse themselves in advance. But others do very well with a translator, as Sir Bobby Robson did with one Jose Mourinho at Barcelona.
Having been criticised for not retaining Mike Phelan as his No2 at Manchester United, I think Moyes will want to have a native go-between who knows the club – and can also translate. He may well want to learn the language but won’t have time at first. As long as he shows some willing it will be respected.
Inheriting a new team in a new league can bring surprises, but I think Moyes will have meticulously analysed his squad’s strength and weaknesses before taking the job. He may even have scouted some of the players as potential signings at previous clubs, and he will learn as much again when they play their first game.
STYLE OF PLAY
It’s no secret that English football is more physical than that on the continent, which in turn tends to be technically more sophisticated. You get more time on the ball in certain areas because most teams – apart from Guardiola’s Barca, whose approach was foreign – don’t press high up the pitch as much.
Yet Moyes shouldn’t see any reason why he can’t set up his team to be combative and strong, as he has before. This is Real Sociedad, not Real Madrid, so he can afford to be treat it like Everton, where he had success, and not United.
The Basque side had a great win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, so he shouldn’t be looking to change too much too quickly.
There is little to concern the British football man abroad nowadays. When I joined Marseille and we stayed in a hotel the night before games, I had to choose from pasta and simple carbohydrates rather than the beans on toast I was used to. Now even in England we’ve moved on. There are international standards for diet, conditioning and so on, and I doubt much will differ to what he’s experienced at Goodison and Old Trafford.
Moyes’s success or failure will depend on players responding well to him – something that didn’t seem to happen at United. It will be a huge education but I think he’s someone who wants to learn; he is said to have fancied managing in Germany before he moved to Manchester. But if he’s learned anything from that job it ought to be the value of being himself.
At Marseille we had a Belgian coach called Raymond Goethals, who was in his seventies but had the blackest hair you’d ever seen. He would stand pitchside watching training, cigarette in mouth, in the pouring rain while boot polish trickled down his face. We all called him Elvis, but we liked him, because that was just how he was.
At Everton, I think we saw the real Moyes, not the one he thought people wanted him to be – and that’s what he needs to get back.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and now works as a media commentator.