What’s the difference between Fergie, Wenger, Benítez and Hiddink, the four toppermost managers of our toppermost clubs, which once again have risen miles above the rest, not just in the Prem but in Europe? Well, Fergie is British, unlike the other three, but that’s not it. Hiddink is only a temporary manager and just passing through? But I bet he’s here to stay. Benítez has got a silly beard and the others haven’t? Getting close.
OK, it is Benítez, because he is the only one of the four who writes notes constantly, even during the most exciting, dramatic, brilliant games, such as that 4-4 draw with Arsenal, when you might think his mind would be totally focused on the game. But no, down his little head goes and across the little scrap of paper on his lap flows his pen. In Spanish, presumably. What is he writing? I do wish the TV cameras or snappers would get a close-up. If they can manage it with Quick of the Yard and snap his Secret Document, surely they can let us all share Rafa’s pearls of wisdom?
Is it to remind Yossi Benayoun to get his hair cut? Stevie Gerrard to stop frowning? Ryan Babel to look as if he’s met the rest of the team? Jamie Carragher to stay in his own half as he can’t run and pass the ball at the same time? Two pints of milk, please, semi-skimmed?
He writes screeds, but perhaps not all about football. I’m sure by now it is an obsessive-compulsive disorder: he just can’t help it, like Fergie can’t stop chewing gum. Maybe he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, but he has to, otherwise he’s not working, not managing a team. It’s charming, really, that he uses old-fashioned writing, not some computer or digital wonder, and doesn’t dictate his thoughts for some serf to type out. His scribbled notes will be a boon to any future biographer, if of course anyone can read them.
I know the problem, as I am a compulsive note-taker. For 30 years I’ve worn a pen round my neck and kept a notebook in my back pocket, ready to record any pensées. I am always on the lookout for thoughts, remarks, observations, facts that I can pinch, I mean, use.
While watching a football game, in the flesh or on telly, I always make notes – God knows why, as 90 per cent of them are immediately forgettable. I have footie notebooks going back to the summer of 1996, when I first started writing this column. During the first three years or so, I recorded the details of every game I watched, and gave points for who played well and whether the score was justified. I must have been mad. I ended up with countless notebooks filled with this rubbish, as if I had had exclusive access to each game, even though full match reports existed in the newspapers.
Over the past five years I’ve only written detailed records of big games, such as England games or the Euros and World Cups, which means I must have . . . Let me see, where are my notes . . . There’ve been four Euros and three World Cups – which means in all I have, oh God, several hundred.
For all the other stuff, the normal league games in all the leagues that I watch, which is everything, everywhere, really, I have my pen poised and make what I call Points – writing down thoughts that come to me while watching a game, but not the goals or scorers.
Which is how last week I found I had written down: “Bloody Rafa, he’s at it again, writing down his boring old notes, why does he do it . . .”