Man­ager soap opera is big turn off!

RYAN FER­GU­SON says the cult of the man­ager has gone too far – and it’s time to con­cen­trate on the foot­ball

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - OPINION -

IT MAY be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine, but once upon a time we cared more about the ac­tual foot­ball than the scan­dal that sur­rounds it.

In this dig­i­tal age of im­me­di­ate sat­is­fac­tion, much of that ro­mance has been lost. Foot­ball has mor­phed into a soap opera of gi­ant con­glom­er­ates, ego­tis­ti­cal mil­lion­aires and con­trived con­tro­versy.

Where once our fo­cus was on styles of play and over­all re­sults, it’s now shifted to in­di­vid­ual celebrity and the up­keep of mean­ing­less sto­ry­lines.

And at cen­tre of it all is ‘The Man­ager’, a charis­matic and em­bat­tled breed that is adored and vil­i­fied capri­ciously, and who is over­shad­ow­ing the game like never be­fore.

Nowa­days, ev­ery Chelsea goal is greeted with in­credulity by com­men­ta­tors, who bark “what a huge goal for Jose Mour­inho”, think­ing about the coach be­fore even con­tem­plat­ing the team he rep­re­sents.

One of the an­cient max­ims of foot­ball sug­gests that no­body is big­ger than the club, but, right now, man­agers across the world are hog­ging at­ten­tion, cre­at­ing sub-plots and set­ting the news agenda.

Head coaches are now global brands in their own right and, quite spec­tac­u­larly, they’ve be­come more in­ter­est­ing than the clubs they ac­tu­ally work for, to a point where the me­dia’s cov­er­age of a team is fun­nelled though a prism of its fas­ci­na­tion with the man­ager. This is a phe­nom­e­non that threat­ens to con­sume foot­ball as we know it, and spawn a man­age­rial beauty pageant in its place.

The re­cent up­heaval at Stam­ford Bridge is a mi­cro­cosm of con­tem­po­rary foot­ball’s warped world view.

Mour­inho was hailed as the great­est man­ager who ever lived af­ter lead­ing Chelsea to the ti­tle in May, only to have his job ques­tioned by fans and me­dia af­ter a string of dif­fi­cult re­sults to start this cam­paign.

Such fick­le­ness creates a toxic and un­sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment, which Mour­inho ex­ac­er­bates by vainly stok­ing the flames of con­tro­versy. The man is in­tox­i­cated on the fruits of his own ego, act­ing like the ar­ro­gant axis around which the foot­ball world or­bits.

In turn, this makes him even more of a story, even more of a mag­net for at­ten­tion and de­tracts fur­ther from what ac­tu­ally oc­curs on the pitch.

This sit­u­a­tion can be traced back to the tabloid boom in the 1980s.With Ru­pert Mur­doch’s bat­tling Robert Maxwell’s for main­stream at­ten­tion, a cir­cu­la­tion war en­sued.

Each pa­per tried to outdo the other with in­creas­ingly sala­cious, sen­sa­tion­al­ist and in­tru­sive re­port­ing fo­cused on in­di­vid­u­als rather than gen­er­al­i­ties.

Sir Bobby Rob­son was the first foot­ball fig­ure to be caught in this scan­dal-hun­gry cult of celebrity, with the tabloid press making his life hell as Eng­land man­ager.

The ad­vent of satel­lite tele­vi­sion took this sub­cul­ture of per­sonal scru­tiny and el­e­vated it to an art form, a cog in the en­ter­tain­ment ma­chine.

Soon, man­agers in the nascent Premier League were in­ter­viewed be­fore and af­ter matches, as their opin­ions be­came grist for the me­dia mill, con­tent to fuel a re­lent­less news cy­cle.

Pre­vi­ously, fans heard from man­agers only on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, Brian Clough notwith­stand­ing. In the late 90s and early 2000s, head coaches be­came su­per­stars in their own right, with ac­tual opin­ions and feel­ings to be con­sumed. The na­tion was fas­ci­nated by enig­matic char­ac­ters like Arsene Wenger and a whole in­dus­try, that of phone-ins and talk ra­dio, was spawned as a re­sult, fur­ther in­di­vid­u­al­is­ing the game.

When foot­ball me­dia soared into a dif­fer­ent strato­sphere in the new mil­len­nium, a tor­rent of rev­enue flooded the sport, as those in­volved lost all sense of re­al­ity. Nowa­days, the com­bined an­nual salary of ev­ery Premier League player would likely dwarf the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of a small is­land na­tion.

The game’s soul has been ob­scured, buried un­der moun­tains of cash. Al­most ev­ery­body as­so­ci­ated with the Premier League is unimag­in­ably wealthy, which nat­u­rally makes them tran­scen­dent of or­di­nary so­ci­ety and, by ex­ten­sion, trans­forms foot­ball into its own fish­bowl that hun­gry fans can­not help but stare at.

The re­cent surge of so­cial me­dia crys­tallised this di­chotomy be­tween supporters and the su­pe­rior, al­most God-like celebri­ties of foot­ball. As fans, we now look up to th­ese su­per­stars and ex­pect om­nipo­tence from them.We de­mand con­stant, elite per­for­mance from th­ese peo­ple on and off the field, which makes the en­tire in­dus­try one gi­ant pres­sure cooker. A dis­turb­ing blood-lust for man­age­rial fir­ings is a symp­tom of that self-per­pet­u­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment, as man­agers be­come the sto­ry­line, rather than mere pro­tag­o­nists within it.

Ac­cord­ingly, our foot­ball-fol­low­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has never been so frag­mented, nor so per­son­al­ity driven. Our first thought upon hear­ing a re­sult is of the man­ager and how it af­fects his job se­cu­rity. The fans and core iden­tity of a club have seeped into the back­ground as foot­ball lurches to­wards the realm of re­al­ity TV.

In or­der to safe­guard the game, we must stop over-in­di­vid­u­al­is­ing it. Of course, hav­ing a mix of char­ac­ters and per­son­al­i­ties adds to the colour and won­der of foot­ball. But when soli­tary peo­ple be­gin over­shad­ow­ing the en­tire en­tity, it’s time to in­ter­vene, take a step back and reap­por­tion our fo­cus back where it be­longs: on the field of

play.

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