Clever And A 'Football Man'? Give Him A Job...

What is it about English football that glorifies the 'proper football man' while being all impressed that Glenn Hoddle knows some big words? Anything bit foreign, eh...

Last Updated: 23/12/13 at 10:19 Post Comment

It's been an unedifying week at Spurs - a week where we saw the anti-intellectual, blindly jingoistic undercurrent of English football find its fullest expression. The glee at the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas along with his dossiers has been palpable.

More appalling by far are the calls from some quarters for Tim Sherwood to get the Spurs job. Thus, the game against West Ham was reported almost as though it was a big win and not actually a loss, so keen were his mates to paint him as the answer to Spurs' supposed problems - problems caused by Mr Villas-Boas who, the same people will tell you, was lucky to be left a golden legacy by his predecessor. The away win to Southampton will no doubt be represented as a great victory for the non-dossier mentality. Sherwood doesn't have dossiers because education is for nerds and for Men Who Are Not One Of Us.

Sherwood's performance has already been described by some as 'a breath of fresh air' and playing Emmanuel 'frozen out' Adebayour as tactical brilliance, as though the striker had been dropped by AVB for being too good and trying too hard.

Jamie Redknapp (a friend of Sherwood, who himself was employed by Jamie's father), in a fit of shameless nepotism, was allowed on national TV to punt Sherwood for the gig because 'he's a football man'. Actually, no, not just a football man but a 'proper' football man. What the hell is a 'proper football man'? And as opposed to what? Was AVB not a 'proper football man'? No. In this context, 'a proper football man' is code for 'a thicko that we can understand and not someone who is too clever for us'; that's what it really means. It's a cipher. For 'breath of fresh air' read 'not some weird foreigner who can construct a sentence, unlike thems of us what can't'. Sherwood is English. English is good. It means you haven't, in that awkward and distasteful phrase, 'gone foreign'.

There is a clear attempt to paint Sherwood as a noble Englishman who likes to 'have a go' and we know there's nothing more likely to excite the English press and a certain sort of fan than an Englishman having a go. It's short-termist in the extreme but that doesn't matter, 'having a go' is something anyone can understand and because stupidity is celebrated and encouraged in English football. It's an attitude popular enough to gain traction as long as the manager is British. If he's foreign though, 'having a go' often becomes just plain 'reckless'.

But the Spurs weirdness doesn't stop at the frankly preposterous notion of Sherwood being given a top managerial job. Now we also have calls for Glenn Hoddle to take over, mostly from Glenn's mates, of course.

Unlike Sherwood, Hoddle has actually been a manager; not a very good manager, but a manager nonetheless. This may have passed you by in the talk of The Great Man. You'd think he'd actually been a rip-roaring success. He wasn't. Statistically, his win ratio of under 40% is underwhelming. Even his supporters question his man-management talents. He hasn't had a managerial job since 2006, presumably for very good reasons. Were he not British, the prospect of his appointment would be widely considered preposterous across all media.

His entire reputation, such as it is, is based on a brief career in charge of England where he is often thought to have put forward 'modern' ideas such as playing with three at the back. Sadly, his modern ideas saw us exit the 1998 World Cup pretty much as usual. Much of this thing about Hoddle being progressive is retrospective dreaming or outright fiction invented to fill the 'what might have been' void and to paint him in the best light.

Hoddle was, brilliantly really, sacked from England for talking utter rubbish about reincarnation. What this revealed about him was the very thing that has probably made him unsuccessful as a manager, that firstly he thought he was clever and secondly that he wasn't clever at all. As one of my Spurs mates said at the time, 'Hoddle is the sort of smart person that thick people like; one who isn't actually smart at all'.

Hoddle was a magnificent footballer and he thrilled a whole generation and this is often used as a justification for why he'd be a good manager, a justification that Hoddle has repeatedly and assiduously set about disproving in his 13 years as a manager, so much so that the arguments put forward in his favour this week were merely that he is now older (who isn't?) and thus not as liable to make the same mistakes again. The same could be said about anyone who had failed in the past and who had been out of the job for eight years.

In his media work, Hoddle seems to be exactly as he has always been; a man who, because he spends his life around mentally incurious footballers (like proper football men such as Sherwood), considers himself to be smarter than average and indeed, is judged as such by many of his peers. This doesn't make it true.

Both Hoddle and Sherwood for different reasons appeal to the anti-intellectual culture that is a default in English football. One is seen as clever, one is seen as down-to-earth but both are seen as in the same gang. The same gang that that good old 'Arry belongs to; a bit thick, not like some clever-dick foreigner, eh. Sorted.

In this mind-set, anti-intellectualism is seen as down to earth, honest and of the people. It is seen as 'proper'. It is for that culture and that culture only that Hoddle is allowed to be considered as a progressive without it being a bad thing because he is 'a proper football man.'.

The pushing of these two men for the Spurs job is illustrative of a powerful driver of football culture, a driver that has the whiff of xenophobia and which is self-deceptive and wilfully tells itself a story it must surely know to be untrue, merely to favour Englishmen and what it perceives as traditional values out of some misplaced sense of identity or loyalty.

In a small way, it's quite appalling.

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