If a manager decides to take advantage of a seat in the stand so as to see the big picture, he is invariably lambasted for not showing enough passion.
If a manager decides to let rip with some passion on the touchline and run the length of the pitch to celebrate a goal he is either ridiculed (step forward Barry Fry) or accused of arrogance (Hello to Jose Mourinho).
It is difficult for them to get it right and meet the fans’ exact demands and requirements. Alan Pardew and Nigel Pearson showed too much passion with their head-butting and Greco-Roman wrestling antics and Ron Atkinson couldn’t even manage to sit in the right dug-out on taking charge of the doomed Nottingham Forest team for the first time in January 1999.
But the inability of the football manager to ‘get it right’ doesn’t stop with scrutiny of their demeanour either; it extends to their sartorial choices. A long duvet coat to keep the cold out seems like an eminently sensible choice in the depths of a winter of discontent but in Arsene Wenger’s case, it has become an icon of his eminent bumblingness, especially on those occasions when his team dilly-dally and pontificate on the nature of their own existence rather than sticking the ball in the net with some good old fashioned welly.
Likewise, a gilet seems like the perfect solution for those occasions when it is too warm for a big coat but not quite barmy enough to be without one. But in such cases, it becomes emblematic of your inability to employ some basic tactics, at which point you hurl it at the press box in a fit of calculated pique.
And even when you try to make a good first impression, like your mother implored you, and wear some brand new box fresh white trainers and cap in an effort to look all smart, the chances are that you’ll get taken down a peg or two for nipping into the club shop just prior to kick off and grabbing your trademark baseball cap from the stall at the till.
But this is nothing new, of course.
Even the great Brian Clough’s scraggy green jumper became iconic of his iconoclastic obduracy towards authority in the same way that Malcolm Allison’s fedora became emblematic of his outlandish lifestyle.
A chap stood stationary and alone in a rectangular white box on a Saturday afternoon while 22 other chaps run around rather does single them out. Players have the safety of the mob in which to fade and although there are subtle tweaks to their required look in the form of different coloured boots, the sporting of sweat bands, the eternal choice of long or short sleeve shirt and of course, the haircut, all of this is tinkering around the edges of the school uniform that is the club strip. Such modifications are like kids at school rolling their blazer sleeves up or wearing black canvas trainers rather than shoes or even really sticking it The Man and wearing the school tie extraordinarily short.
The manager has no hiding place once down by that white line.
Like the baying mob, they are susceptible to fads which come and go quicker than a managerial tenure at Leeds United: Roberto Martinez’s and Stuart Pearce’s tan shoes, that weird belt buckle in the collar of the coat thing worn by Brendan Rodgers, Gianluca Vialli’s extraordinarily chunky tie back in the late 1990s and padded Barbour coats – even Harry Redknapp got in the act of this one. But there’s no hiding place on the pitch and even less so after the game as they are repeatedly wheeled out to fulfill their media commitments against a generic background of little pieces of capitalist, soul-sucking logos that we recognise but then immediately forget. Against such a setting, any off-piste sartorial choices become magnified.
And rightly so. After all, these guys get the big bucks and even if they are deemed to be surplus to requirements due to losing the dressing room, not picking the star player or simply being not very good at the job, a multi-million pound pay-off tends to soften the blow of such disappointment, as does knowing that another job is generally only a phone call away from an old mucker (invariably, a proper ‘football man’) to yank them back on to the ever spinning managerial merry-go-round.
The cult of personality of the manager remains alive and kicking like a particularly narked Buckaroo. We need their foibles, fashion choices and mannerisms more than ever in a time players are generally developing an increasingly good grasp of the lessons on ‘media training’ that some guy spent a full morning banging on about one time. Such idiosyncrasies of theirs crystallize the fury or ecstasy of the supporters (depending upon results) and so it should come as no surprise when they occasionally let rip with a headbutt or a good old-fashioned grapple.
This is not to excuse such antics but a reminder that they have to spend their entire existence justifying their decisions to a baying pack of journalists and fans until the next game. Against such a never-ending maelstrom of incessant white noise, it’s hardly a surprise if they make the odd duff sartorial choice. Let he/she who has never bought a jaunty hat cast the first stone.
Even when they do win, they can’t win.