Class conscious - Andrew Martin finds class in football managers
Football players have no taste, and can't talk, unlike (some) of their managers
Straining, in my satirical novel Bilton, to come up with a preposterous name for a mid-market colour-supplement magazine, I thought of Easy (Like Sunday Morning), and I now see that Conde
Nast has produced a magazine called Easy Living. Irrespective of
the publication's merits - and there is a very interesting item on how to colour-coordinate your bookshelves - did the editor not worry that the title implied a blueprint for life after a lobotomy?
A better use for Conde Nast's money might have been a mag on football managers. As far as I'm concerned this is my idea, although such a magazine may exist somewhere. It certainly ought to. It would probably have to be called Coach. This is already displacing the word "manager", which is too suburban to encompass the growing glamour of modern football coaches.
The increasing importance of the coach - and I write having just read a thousand-word profile of Jose Mourinho in the news pages of the Guardian - is a function of the embourgeoisement of football. It has been apparent for a while that the players are not a sufficient repository for the dreams of your average middle-class, middle-aged, male fantasist. The players have no taste, and they can't talk, unlike (some) of the coaches. Mick McCarthy, for example, who is the manager of Sunderland, once said: "Anyone who uses the word 'quintessentially' in a half-time team talk is talking crap." He is one of the managers I follow; Kevin Keegan was another one, until his sad retirement.
A third, though for slightly opposing reasons, is Bryan Robson.
I have watched, or listened to, hours of interviews with the former "Captain Marvel", waiting in vain for some tiny spark of life. But I admire his stoicism as he watches his teams draw nil in terrible northern weather when only a victory will do.
Speaking of touchline deportment, Coach would carry a feature every week in which a manager describes the clothes he wears in . . . not the dugout, please, but the "technical area". Graeme Souness would discuss how he colour-coordinates that burnt orange scarf of his which, on the face of it, you'd have thought a problematic shade. Some of the brainpower behind GQ could be diverted to Coach, so that there could be an analysis of Mourinho's loafers which can be seen from all angles, top and bottom, as he bounds across the pitch after a victory.
The average Premier League manager occupies a fascinating place in our social hierarchy. He is often a footballer made good, and so attracts the respect we accord both sportsmen and executives. He is not only frequently called "mister" by his players, but has also earned the right to be listened to across society. I once went to a London theatre-world party where, although there were many famous actors present, the man everybody wanted to speak to was Arsene Wenger.
Kevin Keegan once said he wouldn't mind becoming Prime Minister and I would certainly have voted for him, although I'd have insisted on a strong man at Defence. Keegan would have been Labour, obviously, just like that great autodidact Brian Clough, who was the first Labour-voting celebrity of whom I was aware, and whose social egalitarianism sat so oddly and attractively with his incredible big-headedness. Once, asked whether he was the best football manager in the country, he replied: "Well, I'd say I was in the top one."
Leading football managers' interactions with the players are a dreamlike parody of shop-floor confrontations. Players are given a talking to, or otherwise disciplined; the manager is himself sacked by the directors; and yet all involved have the safety net of being millionaires. No wonder the job specification is becoming more demanding. I'm not sure that Stuart Pearce will inherit the Man City job he so desires, because he isn't very beautiful. And how many languages can he speak, exactly?