Every so often there’s a game of football where the greatest drama doesn’t take place on the pitch, but rather, on the sidelines. Some flail their arms in wild fashions, as if their gesticulations will generate season-changing epiphanies in their players. Others stay insufficiently bundled in sport coats, taking drags on barely-cigarettes reduced to comically small sizes by the 90th minute. These are the most fascinating. The exhaustion visible upon the exhale betrays a composed exterior, seeming to admit that “It has become hopeless.” Whether they mean their career or health is uncertain.
Where our manager once sat comfortably in a room of reporters, even joking with them, he now has a curved back and an easy temper. Any question belies an implication of his own incompetence.
“The club seemed to offer better value once _______ was brought on in the second half. Why’d he sit on the bench for 65 minutes?” Didn’t I bring him on when we needed a goal?
“4 points from 4 games. _______ said that the team isn’t gelling. What can you do to heed your captain’s advice?” When did he speak to the press without my permission?
“The Chairman earlier today made a statement to the effect that the club must improve it’s performances. What do you feel you have to change to better your performance?” Is he implying that I don’t know how to do my job?
Then again, it’s often hard to find hope during the prime of any manager’s career. Where his formation once undid center-backs in lower leagues, or propelled a mid-level club to a series of respectable finishes, promotions in leagues and clubs prove the undoing of many. A tactical misstep here, a misunderstanding with a star player there, or any of a number of events that can prompt irreversible strings of bad form are only moments away from even the most talented head coach.
In the past I would have blamed the manager for every mistake. That for some perverse reason he purposely sought to put my club in a position to under-perform. That players standing out of position weren’t a sign of declining mental health, but rather, a cognizant effort to bring me emotional duress.
Of course, that charge is obviously unfair, at least for most managers. No coach sets out desiring a loss. Rather, the manager fails as a result of his own doing. Moving clubs, changing leagues, importing new tactical systems. All these imply an ownership of the sport on the part of managers. That they can change the future of clubs by their own ingenuity and ego.
But isn’t the role of the manager a bit overstated? I don’t mean to display a belief in the Redknapp school of football; coaches are more than elementary school teachers who ensure that their students stay out of trouble and maintain healthy diets. Though, recess is a bit similar to a game of football, isn’t it? A teacher can only do so much to regulate his students once they near the dangerously rusted metal chains of the unbalanced swing. Once the players walk onto the pitch, the manager only has 3, possibly 4 opportunities to directly impact the game. The rest is up to his players. Whether they meld and prove a productive unit is up to their own egos and relationships.
The sly coach who once offered smirks from the technical area can quickly see his expression reverse. Success is simply the result of mutually supportive factors whichworked at a specific moment in time. Change comes quickly. What more can our hero in a sport coat do than tell his players to play? Work to ensure that the fourth dimension proceeds down his desired path? Impossible.
As our hero walks into the tunnel seconds before the final whistle is blown, refusing to turn as he gropes his pockets for his lighter, I can only feel sympathy for an impotent man in an overstated role.