There are so many interesting managers these days, and so many are deemed “elite”, just as so many of their star players are “world-class” (sorry, it just slipped out). No wonder TV can’t get too many close-ups of a manager’s phizog and body language…
I am particularly fascinated by Antonio Conte as I too have a facial tic. While waiting for my turn to talk, either in company or when about to give a few well chosen words at an event, my lips and lower jaw never stop twitching. My wife used to shout at me to stop. I have often caught myself on a monitor, twitching away, and I think who is that poor sod, God, he must be nervous. But I am not. It is just over-excitement – can’t wait to start talking, and then I am OK.
Conte only has occasional moments when he is not ranting and raving, gesticulating and glowering, but when they come, and he gives his body and arms a momentary rest, you can see his mouth still out of control, twitching away. I understand exactly.
It is clearly working. Spurs have played better since he arrived and the crowd immediately took to him, whereas they were never wholly in love with either Mourinho or Santo. Mad passion on the touchline clearly does have an effect, even if the players can’t hear a bleedin’ word.
Jürgen Klopp is a mixture of that passion and calm resignation. You would fancy a drink and chinwag with him after a game, whereas Conte would be impossible, still manic and frothing. Poor old Ole Gunnar Solskjær. I feared for him from the moment I saw him standing there like a little boy lost, an observer at his own funeral. You have to show emotion, any old emotion, or the fans think you don’t care.
Pep Guardiola on the whole is calm and controlled, intellectualising it all. But he can suddenly go potty, rushing up and down like a wild thing. That does rather energise his charges. Marcelo Bielsa is a special case, out on his own on the touchline. He does not rant and rave but is clearly going through some sort of inner turmoil. Leeds fans feel for him when he goes down on his knees. Perhaps he has piles? Or possibly arthritis? And so has to bend down.
Brendan Rodgers. I worry about him. He has never been a shouter and screamer but he has always been jolly good at unemotional clapping, when the lads deserve it. Now he seems a bit half-hearted. Has he decided he has gone far enough with Leicester?
Thomas Tuchel has calmed down somewhat since he arrived at Chelsea. At first he appeared to be another Conte, totally out of control. Now he seems more restrained. Possibly even sensible. But he looks troubled.
Ralph Hasenhüttl of Southampton is pretty calm during the game, but I still watch him closely – if just to see what he is wearing. Definitely the best dressed manager. Did you catch him in his three-piece tweed suit and tie? As if he were at Ascot, not St Mary’s.
Ralf Rangnick has been holding the reins at Man Utd. Not much screaming, but then geography teachers don’t. He has a schoolmasterly air about him – a know-all, which will count against him when things get tough. Mauricio Pochettino was always calm at Southampton and Spurs, yet the fans loved him. He appeared to know what he was doing
Brian Clough was a one-off. The worst dressed manager ever with his horrible green pully. I once spent a day with him in his Derby office. He drove me to his home while wearing carpet slippers. I was terrified his foot would slip and we would end up in a hedge.
Notice how many of today’s elite managers are foreign nationals – a lot of them German. Why so? Germans speak half-decent English and have travelled. Our English lads don’t like abroad – funny place – and don’t need to go there for the money.
Looks and clothes, emotions and expressions, do not, of course, reveal the real person. We never really know our elite managers. Or anybody, really. We can only go on how they appear to us…
This article appears in the 26 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Light that Failed