You Too Could Become A Premier League Manager, And Here's The Proof

10 years ago Mark Warburton worked in a bank; now he's on the cusp of leading Brentford FC into the Premier League.

Not so long ago, it seemed the sole pre-requisite for becoming a football manager was to have had a glittering career as a player. History is littered with good players landing the best managerial jobs and proving to be wholly unsuited to the task at hand: Stuart Pearce, Alex McLeish, Graeme Souness and Tim Sherwood to name but four. 

Recent years, however, have seen an influx of intelligent men with almost non-existent playing careers rise to the very top of the managerial ranks. Jose Mourinho,  as a player, made fewer than a hundred appearances at clubs you’ve never, ever heard of, and he’s done OK. Andre Villas Boas never played a game of professional football in his life, yet led Porto to an unprecedented quadruple in 2010-11.

You can now add the name of Mark Warburton to the burgeoning list of non-players reaching the top of the managerial game. While Warburton spent a bit of time in non-league football in the 1980s, for over 20 years he was a currency trader, working in London for an investment bank and coaching youth and school teams in his spare time. Right now, he’s manager of Brentford FC, and on the cusp of promotion to the Premier League.

So how did he make the leap from bank to dugout? 

For starters, Warburton always had a burning desire to make a name for himself in football. Wherever his career in finance took him – London, Chicago, Charlotte – he always sought an opportunity to coach local school or community teams. After one-too-many 12-hour days at the office, he came home to his wife and told her he wanted become a football manager: “I want to do this: 10 years to achieve something in the game. It’s now or never". He duly quit his handsomely remunerated position as a senior currency trader at RBS and pursued his dream. Looking back, Warburton admits “it was a risk, a gamble,” but he was convinced he could do something in professional football.

He set about learning from the best in Europe, racking up thousands of miles touring such storied institutions as La Masia and De Toekhomst to glean an insight into what made the greatest clubs tick. “I went to Sporting Lisbon, to Inter, to Ajax, Willem II, Valencia, to Manchester City, to Liverpool and you could speak to them for hours.” He watched them train, learnt their methods and, just as importantly, made contacts. 

His European sojourn over, Warburton took a 90% pay-cut to join Championship side Watford’s youth academy, training the under-9s. “When you start off in the football world you start from the lowest level and that’s hard because you’ve been used to a senior position in the bank” he says. “A good friend of mine offered me the chance to go back to the City (London’s financial district) and that was really tempting. At the time I was pumping up footballs and filling a minibus with petrol and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ You are working seven days a week, 90 hours a week for one tenth of the pay.”

But Warburton stuck at it, rising through the ranks at Watford to become the Academy’s Director. 

He left Watford in 2010 and joined Brentford as Sporting Director, responsible for youth development and player recruitment, utilising his contacts throughout Europe. He was responsible for recruiting the majority of a team which narrowly missed out on promotion from League 1 in 2012-13, and the following December was appointed manager following the departure of Uwe Rosler (a former Premier league player). As Brentford midfielder Sam Saunders has said more recently, "A few eyebrows were raised when he got the job, but so far it looks like a great acquisition."

brentford promoted

Pic @Hes1889 | Twitter 

Sam’s underplaying things a little: Warburton won his first six games, the best start by any manager in Brentford’s 125 year history. He led the Bees to automatic promotion from League 1 in his first season in charge, and currently has them sitting in the second playoff place in the Championship, just five points off automatic promotion to the Premier League. 

So how did a man who never played professionally step into a league club and deliver? It turns out that football isn’t so different from other walks of life: "People don't see it; small teams, communication is important, highly competitive, good rewards if you do well, fairly short career span in certain cases," he said. "The more I look at it the more I realise the points of similarity [to other vocations] are too numerous to mention.” 

Mark Warburton is that rare breed: the amateur footballer who elbowed his way into the upper echelons of professional football management, and excelled. The reasons for appointing former players are myriad, and lazy. Clubs will tell you that past greats on the pitch – especially those who played at the highest level – command the respect of the dressing room and mollify an unhappy fan-base. They go down well with the media and, on occasion, create a short-term feel-good factor around the club. 

Brentford made a brave decision appointing Warburton. As owner Matthew Benham said, they could have gone with “a headline name”, as the majority of clubs do, but instead went for a man they believed offered “real energy and passion... someone who wants to grasp the opportunity.” If the rise of Warburton and Brentford FC teaches us anything, it’s that intelligent, hard-working and dedicated individuals of any background can become very, very successful professional football managers if given the chance. The18 looks forward to seeing Brentford and Mark Warburton on NBC Sports next season.