How Could You Not Respect A 'Philosophy'?

The problem with Brendan Rodgers' 'philosophy' is that he comes across like a man inflating the value of his own beliefs and thoughts. Andi Thomas explains...

Last Updated: 09/11/12 at 14:18 Post Comment

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There are some people that simply cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Greet with suspicion any politician that tells you they think your team's sure to win, furrow your brow at any prospective owner that, while not having any particular interest in football, insists he is the man to take your club back to the glory days, and raise an eyebrow at any pundit who plays golf with the manager of the team they're meant to be criticising. To this list can be added football managers who claim to have a 'philosophy', and that means we need to talk about Brendan Rodgers.

Rodgers, incidentally, has actually claimed to have plural 'philosophies', but we'll stick with the singular for two reasons. First, it's handier for the writing. Secondly, we can be fairly sure that Rodgers views all his constituent 'philosophies' as cohering into one overarching super-'philosophy', like that bit at the end of the Power Rangers where all their Dinozords stand on one another's head and become a larger and more terrifying Megazord.

To pre-empt an obvious complaint early, this is not - repeat, not - to say that Rodgers is a bad manager. He was very good at Swansea and pretty decent at Watford, which works out as a generally positive scorecard even allowing for the bobbins at Reading. Too early to tell at Liverpool, of course, though while they may not have all that many actual points, as such, there is at least a vague sense that points are being collected in a better way to previous regimes.

When a manager tells you he has a 'philosophy', what are they saying? They are saying 'I have a clearly defined way that I think football should be played'. Often, said 'philosophy' will cleave to one or other of those vague bromides that make up the 'right' way of playing football: lots of young players, perhaps, or a minimum of percentage-chasing hoofs. The distinction is with those managers that don't have such distinct preferences, that instead adapt their own selves and their teams to the tools available. In itself, perhaps it's a useful line to be able to draw: the systematic vs. the pragmatic; the fixed vs. the flexible. Neither is inherently superior; that's a question of circumstance.

Now, philosophy the subject, the intellectual discipline, is a process, and it works like this. First, take one fundamental question of human existence. Then publish a slim volume outlining (i) why all previous attempts to answer this question are the work of charlatans, sophists, and morons, and (ii) why your attempt to answer this question, though it may appear on the surface to simply be a minor variation on that of some charlatan, sophist, or moron, is in fact a profound and fundamental insight into the inner workings of the universe. Finally, embark on a series of closely argued and vicious debates with the aforementioned charlatans, sophists and morons - if you're good, these can last an entire career - pausing occasionally to lament and wonder at the fact that nobody's all that interested in philosophy anymore.

But outside of the dusty bickering cloisters, it's a word that has been enthusiastically embraced by everybody from hot drink salespeople ("our philosophy is to use tea as a treatment") to jeans salespeople ("the official Be Stupid philosophy"). It's become a noun with cachet. With oomph. After all, a 'thought' is a mundane thing that happens to almost everybody, and an 'idea' just two or more thoughts joined together. A 'plan' is prosaic, a 'preference' is vague, and a 'strategy' sounds bland and faintly fascist. But a 'philosophy'? Woof! How could you not respect one of those?

There's the problem: the term's too loaded. It's both an assertion of the inherent superiority of the idea, and a demand to be admired for having an idea so inherently superior. You know that I am thinking, therefore I am, as Descartes was far too self-secure to conclude. It's nothing more than an exercise in public relations. For while ideas can't really be put in a cage and made to pound seven shades out of one another, footballers, and the 'philosophies' that their managers purport to have, are tested against one another as a matter of course. If you can't keep the ball out of your net and get it into theirs, then not only will your grandiloquent beliefs not save you, but you'll look even more foolish.

Chances are that Rodgers isn't doing this in a calculated manner; he is, after all, just a chilled-out entertainer. Yet that's how he comes across: like a man inflating the value of his own beliefs and thoughts, in the hope that this will serve to inflate his own reputation. A 'philosophy' comes with the lingering scent of snake-oil. For there never was a footballing 'philosophy' that boiled down to anything grander than 'we're going to try to score more than they are', and there never was a manager who survived not doing. Anybody that tells you differently is selling something.

Andi Thomas

Andi also writes for SB Nation and The Score, and is on Twitter. He also contributed to the Surreal Football Magazine #1, which is out now, and available here.

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terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

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he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

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o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
Townsend: I've silenced critics

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