As I watched Jose Mourinho’s dour, sour and frankly ridiculous post-game interview on Saturday evening – an interview during which he seemed completely unaware that he is the manager of the highest profile, biggest, wealthiest football club on earth, thus will inevitably be under incredible scrutiny and hence is paid massive wages – I found myself thinking how old-fashioned his sort of pose and attitude seemed. How out of date.
Full of sneering macho disdain and mythical notions of victimisation, it not only lacked perspective and understanding, but it projected self-regard, self-absorption and self-importance. Puffed-up and paranoid is not a good look on anyone. And while we can all point to public figures who also embody such negativity and exploit fans of cultural and political lowest common denominators for their own gain, it nonetheless feels like an attitude that has had its day and is now merely trying to lose more slowly, especially in sport.
As we move into an international break with England due to play, it only throws Mourinho’s attitude into greater perspective. How huge the contrast between him and Gareth Southgate. Gareth signed a contract extension this week with the minimum of fuss and bother. I couldn’t even find a TV interview he had given about this important decision, so keen must he have been to not aggrandise himself, even though being manager of your country is a tremendous achievement and one I’m certain he is very proud of. That is a very Gareth thing, though – not seeking the limelight to strut and preen. Never keen to talk too much about himself, he’d rather just get on with the job and not be the focus of any more attention than required for such a high-profile job.
Sometimes people, perhaps especially but not exclusively, older people, do not realise that the certainties they thought they knew were certainties, were in fact nothing of the sort and were in fact just a phase. In other words, the way you once believed, spoke and behaved, the way you once thought and conceptualised life, may no longer be wholly appropriate for the times.
The best leaders and most inspiring people fundamentally understand this and soak up the changing cultural tidal waves in order to stay relevant and influential. This doesn’t mean not having any core values or roots, but it does invite you to constantly revisit them and see if they still work. The desire to condemn the new and to live in the past is, in my view, a huge mistake and leads to all sorts of problems, much of which we can see in our everyday public life in 2018. And that’s what Mourinho’s attitude is. It is of the past: not of now. It may have once worked, but it no longer delivers. It once looked strong but now looks like an expression of weakness.
It is still common to see the scowl, the turned-down mouth and the sense that all around want to see you done down. We see it all the time from those for whom change is challenging. From those who once had the power and agency, who scream and shout as they are dispossessed of that power and agency by newly empowered cultural forces. Gareth understands that the past will only guide you if you learn from it but always look to the future. I’m not sure Jose gets that at all. He seems stuck in looking back to what he has achieved, not what he can now achieve. There is a seeming puzzlement that today is not yesterday.
While managing England could be said economically and globally to be a lower-profile job than managing Manchester United, it also comes with a unique pressure – being emblematic of the country, of the nation and as such of setting a tone for its football culture. Given the omniscience of football in England, that also bleeds out into the more generalised culture of the nation. And in both regards, Gareth has been a tremendously positive, progressive, empathetic and reasonable force for change. This is what we need today. It is the bulwark against the sneering bully who will put us down and oppress us if we do not agree with them. A bulwark against the negativity that all too easily infects the body politic of football and of life.
He seems a thoroughly modern, thoughtful man who is naturally empathetic and well-mannered, but not at the expense of humour. It isn’t a learned or forced thing with Gareth, you always just get the sense that you’re seeing the person he really is, not an act, or mood, or pose. He’s understood that in a world of smoke and mirrors, honesty is a premium product and those who own it are admired and are inspiring. The players in his charge have spoke of the positive, supportive attitude he has engendered.
And in an age when vulgarity of all flavours has a disgusting amount of currency, when lies and deceit are routinely passed off as truth and honesty, where narrow-mindedness and bigotry wears the cloak of respectability while lying to itself that it is the last repository of decency, in these times, genuine and polite thoughtfulness is fresh clean water in the polluted river of everyday discourse.
Meanwhile back on Planet Paranoid, all is still hate and war. We’ve given that a chance but it doesn’t work. Time’s up on all of that.
John Lennon once said that “peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are and something you give away”. And that’s why I say the lesson this week both inside and outside football is this: don’t be like Jose, be like Gareth.