We Create Our Own Managerial Beasts

By reacting to everything managers say in such a knee-jerk manner, we contribute to the cycle of boring platitudes. It isn't difficult to control the media like Jose Mourinho...

Last Updated: 12/02/14 at 10:34 Post Comment

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If you ever doubted human beings' ability to hold two contradictory beliefs then you need only look to the response to what football managers say in public.

You may remember that, a couple of weeks back, Jose Mourinho made the headlines for labelling West Ham's style of defensive football as belonging to a bygone era. Nothing especially wrong with that, since a) he's entitled to his opinion, however silly, and b) it was received by pretty much everyone as the transparent piece of result-driven, attention-deflecting nonsense that it was.

And that, you would think, would be that. A raised eyebrow, a chuckle, and no further thought would have been the appropriate response. But things did not transpire so straightforwardly. In the murky recesses of the internet, outrage was brewing. How on earth could the same man who, during his time at Inter Milan, manage to drive a firmly parked bus to Champions League glory register such complaints!? Hypocrite!

And yet, as everyone openly admitted to knowing, his comments were serving - and serving successfully - to ensure that his side's performance took second billing to his outlandish accusations. It was, we all knew, an age-old tactic. But the frothing indignity continued regardless: fists were clenched, disbelieving tones were adopted, football historians were granted 1,000 words with which to disprove the statement's veracity. Hypocrite!

It was nothing new. The exact same process occurred time and time again during Alex Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford, a process as blandly predictable as night preceding day preceding night. Manchester United would fail to win a straightforward fixture, Ferguson would centre his post-match crosshairs on the referee/linesman/opposition player, and the world would react with a knowing nod to acknowledge the wily old fox's canny diversion of scrutiny from football match to press conference.

And then, a few minutes later, an collective cry of 'but how can Ferguson, of all people, complain about that!?' would emanate from the football-watching hivemind, and mass-acrimony would commence. In theory, the first of those responses should negate - or at the very least minimise - the second, certainly once the tactic became recognised, but in practice the apparent controversy drummed up by the comments never seemed to dim. Hypocrite!

Perhaps it's because public pronouncements tend now to be so completely devoid of emotiveness that anything vaguely offensive is jumped on and amplified, despite those teeming onto the bandwagon being largely aware of their role as bait-chomping puppets. The problem is, though, that one is the direct result of the other.

Rene Meulensteen's labelling of Manchester United's tactics on Sunday as "straightforward," for instance, was read as the one-time United assistant openly urinating on his former employer's already-plunging reputation. Maybe that was indeed the intention, or maybe Meulensteen was simply saying what he thought, providing an honest answer to a question posed his way. After all, his was hardly an inaccurate reading of events.

And yet one wouldn't be surprised if, next time a similar question is asked, Meulensteen reaches instead for the stock answer. "The lads were great out there," perhaps, or "we'll keep our eyes on the next fixture".

In a world where anything above the level of tepid can be taken as a ruthless put-down or a grand statement of ambition, the attraction of the cliche-ridden platitude not only soars, but so does the ease with which statements can be made for false, self-serving purposes.

It's a climate which lays a clear path for managers to dictate the agenda as opposed to communicate honestly. The likes of Mourinho, and Ferguson before him, are granted enormous credit for their ability to 'control the narrative', but in reality it's hardly a difficult task. Say something silly, sit back, and wait for the machine clank into gear.

It's a shame, because football managers are surely clever and fascinating people whose true opinions and ideas would be of unending interests to a global, devoted audience. And yet true opinions are, if not a rarity, then too often upstaged by clear acts of manipulative theatricality.

Perhaps much is due to the imbued sense of vitriolic tribalism that the sport now carries inseparably with it, or the ability of digital media to produce a planet-sized snowball of outrage within mere minutes. Of course, the role of the media in exploiting and fostering the above is fundamental, too. But here's a tip for the future that could mean, as we sit through Match of the Day in years to come, we don't reach instinctively for the remote once the highlights are done and the microphones are directed at the coaches: Less of the knee-jerk outrage, eh?

Alex Hess - follow him on Twitter.

If only journalists were brave enough to question some of the things that managers like Mourinho say, to his face, during the press conference. I take it that no one pointed out to him that his own teams have occasionally used tactics similar to those that West Ham used. Perhaps every post match press conference could be a joint press conference, with both managers sitting alongside each other, and thus able to react immediately to whatever nonsense their counterpart spouts, instead of hearing about jibes and accusations second hand from some spittle forming tittle tattling toad with a microphone.
- supercilious

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