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11 September 2019

Football managers may deserve a gap year but players are already just lolling around

Managers work round the clock, they are never not managing. A player’s life, by comparison, is easy. They train from ten to 12 each day and that’s it.

By Hunter Davies

There is an eight-year gap between the oldest and youngest of my three children, which meant that when the youngest got to ten, and was about to move to secondary school, her older sister was 18 and already off round the world, finding herself.

I used to mock this passion for a gap year. What is the point of it? You will get to this beach in Bali cut off from civilisation, and on it will be all the kids you ever sat beside at school.

Flora, aged ten, announced that she wanted a gap year after primary school, before going to secondary school. Brilliant idea, I said, you could start a whole new fashion, pet. But she never did. She didn’t know what a gap year was. She had just heard it being talked about.

Jürgen Klopp, 52, has revealed he is planning to have a gap year when his current contract expires at Liverpool in 2020. The reason? “To recharge his batteries.”

He is following a fashion set by Pep Guardiola of Manchester City. In 2012, after winning everything at Barcelona, he announced he was taking a year off for “mental fatigue”. He had a year in New York, then returned to manage Bayern Munich.

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José Mourinho, if asked, would probably say he is currently taking a year off to recharge, which, of course, would be bollocks. We all know he got the push from Man Utd. Since then, he’s only been offered piddling positions, not suitable for his ego.

But I am sure all successful midde-aged football managers would love a gap year, which is understandable. They feel totally drained, have millions in the bank, yet never see their families.

Will this also happen to our top players? When they reach the middle age for playing – around 27 – does it go through Ronaldo or Messi’s head to have a year off ? They too have millions in the bank, but they know playing has a short life; forced retirement is coming soon, so they want it to last as long as it can, because, let’s face it, they have a cushy existence. It can be stressful if their club is struggling or they hate the gaffer, but compared with being a manager, playing is a doddle.

Managers work round the clock, they are never not managing, especially the top ones who have acquired total control. They know a run of bad form will have everyone criticising them, despite all the trophies they have won.

I once spent a year following Spurs’s Bill Nicholson in the Seventies and later Joe Kinnear in the Nineties, when he was managing Wimbledon. Their life was madness. One evening I drove with Nicholson to Bristol after he had done a full day at Spurs, just because he wanted to watch his reserves play. Then we got in his car and drove back to London in the middle of the night.

Kinnear would drive thousands of miles all over the UK to check out other teams and watch possible players. He would eat stupid food at stupid times in horrible, empty motorway caffs. No wonder he eventually had a heart attack.

A player’s life, by comparison, is easy. They train from ten to 12 each day and that’s it. The rest of the day is their own, unless it’s a match day or they are travelling. They often attend commercial events – turn up, sign stuff and pose for selfies – but they don’t have to, they make enough money.

Time hangs heavily for them, yet they can’t spend and enjoy their money the way they might like to. They can’t go boozing, as players once did, or take drugs. They can watch afternoon television and lose thousands gambling. Why would they want a year off from lolling around, when they know they will soon be doing it full-time.

My wife and I had a gap year once. Not between school and college, but in our early thirties, when our eldest were four and two, not yet at primary school. We had a year in Gozo and Portugal. To find ourselves, of course, and recharge our batteries. After six weeks in the sun, I used to wake up and think, “Oh no, not another perfect day.” I was so glad to get home and back to work. 

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “Happy Old Me” (Simon and Schuster, £16.99)

This article appears in the 11 Sep 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron’s legacy of chaos