Can We Stop Over-Rating The Bare Minimum?

Football managers are often lauded for their mind games, man management and tactical planning. Isn't that the least we should expect, given that it's their actual job..?

Last Updated: 10/04/14 at 09:48 Post Comment

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Do you ever watch football, hear some managerial decision being vaunted as brilliance and think, 'but surely, that's just obvious?'

When Chelsea's players mentioned how, for their game against PSG, they had trained for playing different tactics in different scenarios depending on the score, there was a general nod of wise approval at this. This is why he's a winner. It was widely portrayed as just more evidence of Jose Mourinho's brilliance. He's thought about different situations in advance. Brilliant. That Jose. What a man.

The real question is, who the hell is NOT doing this? Managers have nothing else to do all week. This is the job - thinking stuff up. So whether you're in a Champions League quarter-final or playing Fulham at home, you surely need to think of alternative strategies to deploy given certain variables? While you can't allow for every circumstance, you can certainly envisage three or four likely scenarios and plan accordingly.

Mourinho, not being an idiot, has obviously worked out it'd be quite good if you know what to do at any given time in the 90 minutes. This should be a basic requirement of the job, not regarded as a piece of unique brilliance. But of course, it didn't look like David Moyes had thought in advance about being a goal up at Bayern, nor about being 2-1 down. In fact, by the look on his face, both of these situations terrified him, but there won't be much said about it because lack of planning seems to be the norm.

Football does this sort of thing all the time. It constantly over-rates basic things, hailing their excellence.

Look at the focus on so-called 'mind games.' This was assigned to Sir Alex Ferguson and others as a wonderful asset and yet to the outside world, it was just a bloke who would complain about stuff or lie about a team selection. If he said something that annoyed another manager, that would held up as brilliant mind games. Yet people annoy each other all the time. The kid in the local coffee shop annoys me with his skinny jeans hanging off his arse and his underpants hanging out. Is this part of a mind games strategy to get me to spend more money on coffee?

Mind games has been made up. It's a fiction deployed by journalists who want to blow smoke up a manager's backside to portray them as a wizard. If it does exist it's as crude and blunt weapon as saying, 'It'll be a tough game' when you know it'll be an easy game. It's special wonderfulness is a pure invention in order to generate news stories and whip up some excitement where none exists....or am I just playing mind games on you?

Then there's 'man management.' A third grand illusion. I recall Harry Redknapp being caught on camera putting an arm around Aaron Lennon whilst at Tottenham and saying words to the effect of 'you were brilliant son.' This was immediately said to be brilliant man management. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was just a bloke doing what we all do when someone has performed well. We compliment them.

Man management is not some sort of elaborate neuroscience but, in football, 'he knows when to put an arm around a player' seems to have been elevated to an art form. It's said in such glowing terms as though the manager is a wise old Buddha whose knowledge of the nature of humanity is unrivalled and whose limitless well of empathy would give Jesus a run for his money. Obviously, you're managing a group of players and you need to intellectually and emotionally manipulate them. That's why you're called a manager. But just telling someone who has played well that they've played well is hardly a nine out of ten on the scale of original thinking is it? To hear how some managers are praised for their inter-personal skills, it's a wonder they're not all working for the United Nations. Again, it's not much but is sold back to us as brilliance.

Sometimes in football it seems as though basic competence is dressed up as stunning originality and failure excused by the very same lack of understanding about what competence is. The vast gulf between Jose Mourinho and David Moyes was there for everyone to see this week, but the Portuguese's superiority wasn't such exceptional brilliance, it's just that, by contrast, the default-standard is so low.

Johnny now writes superb northern crime novels. We love them. Check them out here:

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