Sit down, stand up: Does it actually matter?

Date published: Monday 18th January 2016 10:30

Louis van Gaal

Is how much your manager stands up important to you? Think about it for a moment. Does how active the manager is, how emotional he is, matter to you at all?

I know some Manchester United fans were disappointed at Sunday’s win against Liverpool because it probably means Louis Van Gaal will stay in his job and there’s a lot of criticism of the Dutchman. One of the most frequent is that he never stands up and instead, just sits there making notes on his clipboard. The word ‘clipboard’ is spat out in disgust, as though it is the most despicable thing any manager could hold. Somehow it has become symbolic of United’s emasculated style.

Even as Wayne Rooney did his typical ‘great stats, average game’ thing and scored the winner, Louis didn’t stand up. It was a win against their biggest rivals but it made no difference to him. Rather, he made a downstroke of his pen, his face flushed pink like your granddad’s after three double whiskies on a cold afternoon.

Twenty years ago, while manager of Ajax, he is said to have realised it was pointless to thrash around pitchside and that nothing was achieved by it. So he made a decision to not bother. But is being quite this passive really such a good thing? It certainly annoys a lot of people.

Much contrast is made with Jurgen Klopp. He’s always a-leapin’ and a-punchin’. This is A Good Thing. Whereas remaining seated and making notes is a sign you’re a boring tw*t who doesn’t care. That is the received wisdom from some.

Except, of course, Timothy Sherwood did the shouty-leapy thing too and he became a bit of a laughing stock. In fact, the degree of haggard stress on his face was even said to be investing tension into the players. There’s a fine line between being passionate and undignified. David Moyes was criticised for his almost boyish wide-eyed celebration of United’s goals because it seemed as though he was less the gaffer and more the emotional supporter.

So where does the truth lie? Because actually, if you think about it, it is a bit odd to not be moved by football, at least occasionally. As goals are only occasionally scored, the emotional release when the ball hits the net is one of the game’s addictive qualities, so it’s easy to see the man who doesn’t go wild as a bit strange.

The pitchside man is involved and one of us, the seated laptop guru is removed and that means when things go badly, the quiet ones get it in the neck more quickly for seeming not to care. Fans look for reasons things are not going right and, for those not keen on deeper analysis, the standing up and shouting thing is target number one.

We’ve seen this played out so many times. Sve- Goran Eriksson was decried by the grunt media for his supposed lack of passion because he wasn’t one for punching the air or patrolling the touchline whilst chewing ferociously on a wad of gum the size of a seagull.

Rafa Benitez is perhaps the most famous passive manager, merely noting something down as all go mad with joy around him. It drives some people crazy, and others, like me, love him for it. He seems almost as though he’s in a higher spiritual dimension.

Sir Alf Ramsey famously chided his number two for celebrating Geoff Hurst’s fourth goal in the World Cup final, feeling it was an undignified and foolish reaction.

Obviously, most fans don’t care if the manager is sitting in those stupid racing car seats knitting a cardigan if their side is caning everyone 4-0. Then it becomes emblematic of his eccentric, maverick genius – he can knit a jumper and still win! But lose or play badly and it quickly becomes emblematic of the problem – why is he bloody knitting?!

As I wrote last week, one United fan called into 606 to say he just wanted a manager who stood up a lot and he was serious. He saw a correlation between the standing and being any good. Clearly it’s not a sustainable view, but it is easy to see where it comes from and I’d wager we all have an element of this in our football DNA which needs recognising.

Being both physically and emotionally removed is more often than not a bad look for a football club manager.

At Watford, Quique Sánchez Flores is always there, patrolling and looking cool. Mark Hughes stands, weight on one leg, thighs bulging, arms crossed, scowling. Arsene Wenger flaps his arms around like an epileptic ostrich. Jose Mourinho boosted his standing by doing touchline, knee-sliding sprints and other outlandish gestures.

In short, even though it might seem anti-intellectual, there is something good about your manager just being visible and having an emotional response when appropriate. The reason Klopp is so well received is mostly because he seems genuinely engaged. When Joe Allen scored the equaliser against Arsenal, Klopp’s reaction was that of most Liverpool fans. They saw how they felt, in him. United fans can’t say that about Van Gaal. Had Klopp sat relatively impassive ticking at a clipboard it would have seemed very weird.

It’s often said football is a results business and if Manchester United were top of the league by five points, Van Gaal’s stoic approach would be under much less criticism, but many would still not like it, because when your manager doesn’t seem in synch with the fans, it is much less satisfying.

No reaction, passive or active, emotional or placid will save you from their ire if you lose a lot, but sitting in your little red brick bunker and never emerging at all, regardless of what is happening on the pitch, has now got to the point when it seems almost cowardly.

John Nicholson

 

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