Jurgen Klopp said he would love to speak to Marcelo Bielsa “but I don’t speak Spanish apart from ordering a beer”. Language is often the key to getting your message across in football as well as life…
* Walter Mazzarri feels the Hornets’ sting
Mazzarri was the latest in line of Watford managers – or should that be gig economy workers? – to be sacked at the end of the 2016/17 season with the Hornets scraping 17th place. His last game was a 5-0 hammering by Manchester City.
The former Napoli boss had been very unpopular with the players and axed fans’ favourite Troy Deeney; it took some cojones to do that.
The club’s Italian owners urged Mazzarri to learn the native tongue, but their wishes were ignored. All his press conferences were conducted in Italian, via an interpreter. In training, instructions had to be relayed to English speakers by one of the bilingual players.
His sacking came one season into a three-year contract, which meant Watford had used eight managers in five years since the Pozzo family took control of the club. Nothing much has changed since.
* Claudio Ranieri smells broken English
When he first visited English shores as Chelsea manager in 2000, one scribe suggested Ranieri already had the ‘permanent look of a man who has just smelled something unpleasant’. That he struggled so badly in expressing himself in the most badly broken English since Dom Joly’s Dutch tourist did not help matters. This was not lost on Jose Mourinho before his Inter side clashed with Ranieri’s Juventus in 2008.
“I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans. After five years in England, he had trouble saying good morning and good afternoon.”
The Foxes must have understood him pretty well by the time he landed Leicester the Premier League in 2016. Dilly ding dilly dong.
* Mauricio Pochettino’s sky falls in
After his move from Espanyol to Southampton, Pochettino was rather coy about his ability to speak a new language.
He explained: “The fact is I have an interpreter because he gives me the security that, when I have to answer complex questions, and with my complex answers, it’s much better I have an interpreter to make sure nothing is misconstrued.”
To help him in his quest, Pochettino turned to lifelong Spurs fan Adele for support. Sort of.
“The tutor said, “Okay, we are going to try something a little different, let’s learn with a song”. She put on Adele’s Skyfall, which is so tricky – as you can imagine – if you don’t know anything about English. But every time I hear Skyfall now, I always think about that and smile.”
When Tottenham appointed Pochettino in the summer of 2014, they briefed that the north London club would not allow him to use an interpreter at the club.
— Hotspur Related (@HotspurRelated) May 27, 2014
When the Argentinian said “trophies only build your ego” in 2019, he may have wished the translator was still there. This is the end…
* Klopp gets in a strop
Jurgen Klopp was in fiery mood in the press conference before the critical final Champions League match at Salzburg last December.
The Liverpool manager wasn’t happy when the English-to-German translator interpretation of Jordan Henderson’s comments suggested the game was going to be easy. Henderson, in response to being asked about Liverpool’s previous successes in final group games, had actually said: “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”
Speaking in German, Klopp fired back: “It’s s*** when next to the translator sits a coach who speaks German. The question was if the Champions League title from the last year helps us because we have always delivered in situations like this. You should really listen. Otherwise, I can do it by myself. It’s not too difficult.”
Ouch. Jurgen added that he was in “competition mode already” next to a slightly bemused skipper. It worked. Liverpool won 2-0 to go through.
* Attilio Lombardo’s Italian palace
The former Italian international became a legend at Selhurst Park; so much so that when Steve Coppell’s reign came to an end in 1998, the ‘Bald Eagle’ took over on account of his popularity as a player. This overlooked the fact that the Italian could hardly speak English.
“I remember one of the team talks; it was something simple like, ‘shut them down as a unit’, recalls former Palace striker Neil Shipperley. “It took 20 minutes to say that through all the translators.”
Lombardo’s partnership with Tomas Brolin, who acted as more of an interpreter than an assistant, lasted seven matches.
“It felt more like your mate’s dad helping out with your Sunday team because no-one else can be bothered,” said Jim Daly, host of Crystal Palace podcast The Five Year Plan. “I’m still not massively convinced he knew what he was agreeing to at the time.”
* McClaren speaks double Dutch
Cruelly, it has been said that McClaren didn’t make much sense as England manager.
Ahead of his FC Twente side’s match against Arsenal in a 2008 Champions league qualifier, the former Manchester United assistant coach gave a Dutch-sounding interview in English…
Flashback to when Steve McLaren developed a Dutch accent overnight. pic.twitter.com/HJcY3jUu6R
— Plink2 (@plinketyplink2) July 9, 2019
…perhaps in the belief that he would gain some native credibility.
Instead, the interview became a massive comic hit on YouTube. It went something like this: “Championsh League, Liverpool or Arshenal, I thought one of them we would draw and it is Arshenal I think. To experiensh big gamesh, Championsh League… Arshenal… The Emiratesh… will be fantashtic for the playersh, not just for now but for the future ashwell. I shay I think we are not just…what you call?… underdogsh but mashive underdogsh.”
Twente lost 6-0 on aggregate. Mashive blow.
* Trapattoni gets Germanic panic
After his Bayern Munich side lost to Schalke 04 in 1998, legendary Italian boss Trapattoni sounded as bellicose as Mussolini after a crash course in German, suggesting the players’ performance was “weak like a bottle empty” and damning Thomas Strunz with the epic words “What dare Strunz!”
He wound up the press conference with the infamous line “Ich habe fertig” or “I have ready”. The Social Democrats party successfully campaigned with this sentence against then-chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was even shortlisted for German Phrase of the Year.
* Christian Gross goes underground
The tabloid ridicule of Gross was often linked to his poor grasp of English. He was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Swiss league at Grasshopper. He arrived three minutes late for his first press conference at White Hart Lane in 1998 brandishing a London Underground ticket with the words: “I want this to become my ticket to the dreams. I came by Underground because I wanted to know the way the fans feel coming to Spurs. I want to show that I am one of them.”
Alan Sugar wore his Apprentice face in shock at such false sincerity. Nine months later Gross was fired.
— The Spurs Web ⚪️ (@thespursweb) March 16, 2020
* Arsene Wenger turning Japanese
During his spell as manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1995/96, Wenger was called in for a meeting with the club’s president after a poor start to the season.
“Mr Wenger, we are a bit worried about the results,’ explained the club’s president. Wenger, with customary respect for his Japanese employers, cleared his throat and said simply: “Yes, so am I.”
“We are thinking of making a change, Mr Wenger,” added the president. Wenger’s pulse quickened. “Yes, I thought you might say that.”
“Would you like me to sack the translator?” said the President.
He went on to win the Emperor’s Cup and was voted J-League manager of the year in his final season before moving to Highbury in 1996.
* Gary Neville’s V to Valencia
As soon as Neville was appointed head coach at Valencia in 2015, he admitted that his biggest challenge would be communicating clearly with his players when he was unable to speak their language.
“I knew I couldn’t communicate with the players and I knew the club was difficult, I knew the dressing room was divided, I knew it was a difficult time in the club, I knew they’d sacked 15 managers in 13 years. I knew I was going to get criticised.”
Crikey. Nothing like feeling secure going into the job then…
It doesn’t help when your brother, previously caretaker manager, tries to tweet in the native tongue and fails miserably.
Phil Neville attempts to tweet in Spanish. Makes an unfortunate translation error. pic.twitter.com/rA43AGOSfD
— Andrew Bloch (@AndrewBloch) July 19, 2015
Tim Ellis – follow him on Twitter