Football managers are neither gods nor fools…

Date published: Monday 20th March 2017 12:10

I’m not a fan of putting people on a pedestals, nor of the cult of personality which is its beloved brother. And yet today we see this everywhere in life and in football. Public figures are placed on high, only to be knocked down when they fail to match the standards foisted upon them. Recent global political events all too clearly show what happens when people side with someone and believe anything they say, regardless of facts or truth.

Nuance is the enemy of certainty and in an all-right or all-wrong culture, that’s not helpful at all.
This is so rife in football, none more so than in the attitude to managers. In recent weeks we’ve had Jose Mourinho being caught up in a weird kind of love/hate spat with the Chelsea fans. Ridiculously, planes have been hired to tell Arsene Wenger to stay or to get out. Pep Guardiola has regularly been called a fraud, and the sacking of Claudio Ranieri was widely reported as ‘the death of football’. Oh and Tony Pulis is a genius, apparently. An actual genius. Sean Dyche is a dinosaur, if only in his own mind. And let’s not mention again what was said of Marco Silva.

It goes on and on and on in a ceaseless stream of worship and vitriol for and against the bloke in the dug-out. Some seem to see them as a kind of father figure to be respected, others see an idiot incubus squatting on their club, draining the life out of it.

I suppose managers are all part of the entertainment, but now more than ever it is obvious they are just another transient employee, and as such are merely passing through, like a dodgy pie in the digestive system of the club. Sooner or later he will have passed through. They’re not the custodian of the club and nor are they required to be so. So why do people invest so much emotion in them?

Along with the fame and fortune that accompanies 21st century top-flight football management, has come a cult of personality, leading managers to be regarded far too highly, as though masters of a mysterious arcane art; or far too lowly, as though football is beyond them intellectually just because they’ve lost the last three games.

The reverence for Arsene Wenger, as though he’s a cross between Mother Theresa and Bambi, which casts sacking him as the moral equivalent of choking a puppy, is some shade of crazy. Equally, the idea that he’s hanging around the place, atrophying the club, is also far too extreme.

Obviously, everyone deserves a basic level of respect, but the ceaseless hand-wringing about how to deal with him just seems almost surreal. I mean, get a grip, nothing bad will happen if he’s sacked. Nothing bad will happen if he’s not sacked. Stop caring so much either way. He’s not ‘earned the right’ to choose when he departs. No such ‘right’ exists. It’s just fantasy; a story people have made up to satisfy an internal emotional need, though quite why remains elusive.

A sobering reminder is perhaps needed that all of these top managers are very, very rich, insulated forever by lavish money. They’re not working for a charity, they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re not donating their labour for free. To pretend that, for some of them, this doesn’t matter and that somehow they’re above the sweaty, greasy grasp of mammon, is not just to be naive, but to be actively engaged in further mythologising. The multi-millionaire manager not driven by money is the one who turns down his wages. No-one is doing that, not even the ones who are said not to be ‘driven by money’, or for whom, ‘it’s not about the money’ despite already having far more than they could ever spend or ever need. Funny that. It’s just a concept made up to further aggrandise and hero worship someone.

And I think this is what is behind the cult of the modern manager. This inventing of fairy tales out of a deep-seated psychological need to pretend that the manager is the personification of loyalty, altruism, intellect or whatever other trait that the fan admires in the human race.

This weirdness recently reached a new peak with the dismissal of Ranieri, which was widely reported as though it was a human rights crime, when the truth was it was just a man getting paid off handsomely not to work. Tough gig, that.

This elevation of the status of managers to that of either gods or fools is obviously all part of the soap opera that the Premier League itself, along with the media that feasts on it, is happy to foment. But why do some fans buy into it so deeply that they’re prepared to rent a plane to proclaim their view about the manager? That’s an insane waste of money which could have more usefully been spent helping people and not on an exercise of head-up-arse vanity.

The modern world seems more and more to be one big cult of personality. “I exploit you, you still love me, I tell you one and one is three. I’m the cult of personality,” seems to be the way of it.

Managers are obviously a very important factor in the performance of the side, but elevating them to the level of some sort of holy man or wizard is totally out of whack with reality. We can see this happening to Antonio Conte right now. Clearly, he’s done a fantastic job this year. And he’s very entertaining, but at some point it will all go wrong for him, for reasons both outside his control and within his control. How do I know? Because it always does. Football has an infinite amount of variables which no one person can permanently overcome. This will not make his inevitable dismissal a crime against nature, nor will it be a welcome defenestration of a useless fool.

Perhaps more than anyone, Guardiola has up to now, been the beneficiary of this weird mythologised hero worship, painted as having innate brilliance that merely had to be cast upon players, like a magic spell, to transform them into winners. It would appear some are shocked that he doesn’t actually walk above the ground. Not just shocked in fact, but insulted, feeling they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes or have been sold dodgy merchandise, hence the ‘Fraudiola’ claims. If you’re saying, as many in the press have, “I thought he was going to be brilliant, but hasn’t been”, you are criticising him for not living up to the standard you created for him in your own head. You’re just another who can’t separate myth from reality. To then make out he’s some sort of crazy person only demeans you further.

It becomes embarrassing both how craven, and also how negative, so many are towards managers at any one time, often flipping from love to hate, in short order.

Your manager isn’t your God, your dad, or your teacher. Don’t waste so much emotion on him, he won’t be wasting his on you, and nor should he be. So put your planes back in the hangar and act like a grown-up.

John Nicholson

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