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Managers - What Are They Like? Why Antonio Conte is not Ange Postecoglou
By Martin "Old Tat" Kelner on Dec 31, 2021 - 11:59:57 PM

Managers, what are they like?   Blog post, September 11, 2016


You may be familiar with Shakespeare's line from Macbeth about something or other being 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'    It's a gag I recall every time I see a football manager in his technical area, taking time off from haranguing the fourth official to gesticulate wildly at his players; in what I'm sure must be a doomed attempt to convey tactical information to them.

The Scottish king's words certainly came to mind watching Swansea - Chelsea on Sky yesterday.   Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was unmistakeably full of S and F, as he ran through the gamut of emotions, from teeth-grinding frustration to semi-orgasmic joy.   


Actually, no, forget the gamut.    There was no gamut.    Conte tends to by-pass the in-between emotions.    He doesn't do thoughtful, troubled, amused, mildly annoyed, or any of those.    You never see him looking like he's wondering if he might have left the gas on at home, or whether to pick up a takeaway on the drive back.   


What he resembles more is someone emerging from his vehicle after a road traffic accident to confront the driver who has just shunted him from behind.


He's a gift to the cameras.    I mean, Jurgen Klopp can be fun, but if what you're looking for are close-up reaction shots of someone hopping up and down, seemingly quite literally trying to tear his hair out, Conte is your man.   


I know racial stereotypes are not exactly comme il faut these days, but as the BBC is running a season celebrating its hit sitcoms of the 1960s and '70s, I think I'm allowed to say Antonio is just so gloriously Italian.    Short of wiping the Bolognese sauce off his meat cleaver and belabouring the opposition manager with it, to a soundtrack of grand opera, he could not conform more fully to the popular image.     


And he does re-open the question of how much influence a manager can have on a game once his players have, as football people like to say, 'crossed the white line.'    I suppose continually letting the officials know he is unhappy with decisions could arguably tip the balance in his favour later in the match - it's a technique Sir Alex Ferguson was often accused of employing - but that weird thing where you thrust both arms out in front of you, as if holding an invisible ball of wool, move them in a piston-like motion, and then furiously hold up three or four fingers to your team, is that communicating anything to the players?


I should think it's more likely to muddy the waters.    I've never played football at the highest level - or even at the lowest level, to be brutally honest - but I'm sure that if I were to catch sight of the gaffer on the touchline waving his arms about, in some visible distress, I should lose focus, trying to decode the message.    "What the hell's he on about?" I should ask myself. "Clearly something has got in amongst him, but what does he want me to do about it?" I might find myself pondering, as the tough-tackling opposition midfielder robbed me of the ball.


Within the game, as you may have noticed, my view is not universally supported.    Players, we are often told, respond to those managers described as "demonstrative," and managers certainly believe their pitch-side mimes have an effect.   


Stoke manager Mark Hughes, for instance, who outdid Conte in fury, to the extent that he was banished to the stands, was so insistent on getting his thoughts through to his struggling charges, that he insisted on being connected electronically to his coaching team down below.


The pictures on the BBC's Match Of The Day showed a still fuming Hughes struggling with some primitive device, which looked disturbingly similar to the toy walkie-talkie set my dad bought me for Christmas when I was ten years old, so I could play secret agents with Ian Goldberg across the road.


Once Hughes got the hang of it, I expect he was passing all sorts of important instructions to his assistants: "Right, hold up three fingers now.    No, hang on, four, move your arm backwards and forwards.     No, the other arm.    OK, that's right, now go to the other end of the technical area and point to your eyes with both fingers, look angry; touch the side of your head."


It's possible the Bard was thinking of this kind of pantomime when he wrote of a 'poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,' (or an hour-and-a-half with time added on, in the case of the gaffers) but then again, Macbeth was only under siege in his castle, Hughes had just gone 3-0 down at home to Spurs.

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