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
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