BY JONNY BRICK
The era of the ‘celebrity gaffer’ is upon us. Mourinho out, Guardiola leaving, Simeone interested, Klopp on Merseyside, and football critics and fans following their every gesture.
There’s a reason those four have won, or in Klopp’s case been minutes away from, the top prizes on the continent in the last ten years: they galvanise their players, create a winning mentality and attract the best talent to work under them.
In recent years, Sir Alex Ferguson has sold thousands of copies of his second set of memoirs, while Mourinho and Guardiola have both had biographies written about them by broadsheet journalists. The football manager memoir is a genre in itself, even if it leads to unreliable narrators (Brian Clough, for one, about whom Duncan Hamilton and Jonathan Wilson have written). Some have written more than one: Kenny Dalglish, Roy Keane, Ferguson himself and Terry Venables have multiple volumes of their lives as players and managers. Harry Redknapp dedicated an entire volume to his ‘top, top’ players.
But what about the old football men, the sort of men written about by Mike Calvin in his recent book Living on the Volcano? A book that should have taken up stocking space over Christmas, Mike talks to men like John Still, Martin Ling and Kenny Jackett, none of who had, or have, millions of pounds to spend, as well as those three who brought Swansea up to the millionaire’s table: Rodgers, Martinez and Monk. Shocking stories of managers being abused in public, while supervising his kids in the park, create sympathy for men whose average time in one job is (altogether now…) eighteen months.Embed from Getty Images
Two characters of the old school have their tomes on the shelves, both similar in tone: Neil Warnock’s The Gaffer and Sam Allardyce’s Big Sam are packed with anecdotes and grumbles, and are great additions to the canon, and probably a lot more interesting than Jose Mourinho’s new picture book that snuck out just before he was fired.
Footballers are usually paired with journalists to transcribe their words: Rory Smith worked with Rafa Benitez, Paul Hayward collaborated on Fergie’s second book and Glenn Moore organised the thoughts of Neil Warnock. Did the gaffer or the critic write these words:
“Young journalists have to create headlines…they used to look for angles and talk about football…Now it’s about personalities and no one ever asks about the game.”
Sam says much the same thing, adding that some journalists create controversy for its own sake. He also says most of them can dish it out but can’t take it. They build up a relationship with the press officer and the players’ agents, not as it used to be with managers and players themselves.
Here is Warnock: “Playing those Fantasy Football games is a million miles from being a real manager – you never get those off-the-wall problems you’re confronted with in management…Players are human.”
Becoming a manager means you put everyone else ahead of you and your family, the opposite of being a ‘selfish’ player. Managing players, for Sam, is the easiest part; there’s also the fans, press and owners, and, of course, ‘keeping everyone happy is impossible’. Worse still, success breeds discontentment as everyone wants their reward. In the late 1970s Sam’s promotion bonus was £3000; Sam’s house cost £7,000, which he paid for with wages of £60 a week.
Warnock will miss the banter when he retires, adopting some players (Phil Jagielka and Michael Brown) as favourites. Sam, of course, had Kevin ‘Nobby’ Nolan, and managed a young Steve Finnan at Notts County. It will still amazes me that players of the calibre of Gardner, Okocha and Djorkaeff played for little Bolton, and equally amazing that Nicolas Anelka was briefly there too. Sam wanted more players of his quality, but was denied by his chairman.
The line that perturbs a reader is when Phil Gartside said to Sam, with his team in the League Cup final, ‘If we win this we are going to get into Europe and I’m not sure we can afford it.’ A decade later, Bolton are in dire straits. Winless for months before the last game of 2015, they are stuck at the bottom of the second tier. In Sam’s era, Bolton were threatened with closure even having just opened their superb new stadium, and his achievements were due to a strong backroom team, who would meet to discuss their ten-year plan in the War Room, and of course bringing in top European talent like Hierro, Ivan Campo and Jussi Jaaskelainen.
When QPR went up as champions there was no money for parades or parties or pay rises or immediate bonus payments, which kills morale, in Warnock’s view. The Sky Sports era has a critic in Warnock. “You can’t use money now to discipline people”; a two-week fine is useless when someone will earn £3million a year. A lot of players “just pick up the cheque and are not bothered about playing games.”Embed from Getty Images
Warnock once tried to sign a youngster on loan, but he was earning £900,000 a year as a teenager, and they couldn’t afford £18k a week. “It saps their desire,” he noted, “and attracts the wrong ‘friends’.” Such ‘friends’ helped to wreck the career of Ravel Morrison.
Sam is sombre about Morrison and Jermaine Pennant, talented teenagers who, in the latter case, was so talented at 14 that he was ready for the first team. But he couldn’t play because he wasn’t in full-time education, and moved on to Arsenal to play briefly for Arsene Wenger, Sam’s bête noire.
Sam’s experiences in America led to him adopting sports science at the same time as Wenger, but nullifying Arsenal’s front men brought success for Bolton. Everyone remembers Sam’s cackle at Jose Mourinho’s claim that West Ham were playing awful football, and Louis van Gaal’s determination to label any ball to Marouane Fellaini ‘a long pass’, not ‘a long ball’.
“I take full responsibility for where QPR presently are…in the Premier League” Warnock famously told Sky the day he was sacked. Sam got West Ham promoted in one season, but was pilloried in his third for not playing ‘the West Ham way’, one of those indefinable concepts like qi or karma.
As for players, there is no respite in the public arena and Sam recalls the 1970s as a better time. The PFA argued that what the jobs apprentices did, mucking out the loos and sweeping the terraces before cleaning the pros’ boots, was slave labour, but it made them disciplined and determined, something that is sorely missing today.
Remember Freddie Sears, who scored some goals for West Ham? Sam didn’t rate him, and didn’t see his dedication. Jack Collison, now retired after horrible injury problems, was a brighter prospect. Michael Ricketts, now Troy Deeney’s agent, exploded into the Premier League in the 2002/3 season but let the fame affect his game: “A criminal waste of talent…he had no discipline,” writes Sam.
The things Adel Taarabt did at QPR were astonishing, both good and ill. A pain to both Warnock and Harry Redknapp, Taarabt fell the right side of ‘the Suarez line’. Like Eric Cantona, his behaviour was tolerated because of his star power. You may think that of El-Hadji Diouf, who was vetted heavily before he came to Warnock’s Leeds, where someone told Warnock about Diouf doing great things at a function for disabled kids. Warnock had called him ‘a sewer rat’ in the past, but Sam also had a lot of time for ‘Dioufy’ too, bringing him to Blackburn.
Sam was almost made England manager in 2006, but knew he was up against it when he couldn’t operate his powerpoint presentation because the FA didn’t have a setup. Steve McClaren got the job for eighteen months, and Sam went to Newcastle and Blackburn, suffering in both cases from a change in ownership. His time at Newcastle was marred by injuries, while at Blackburn he was presented with a list of players to sign by Jerome Anderson, who was lobbying the Venky owners for his guys. Steve Kean, naturally, was a client, and Sam’s disgust at the manoeuvres certainly show Anderson (whose son Miles played football with my brother as a kid) as a meddler.
After seeing Scott Parker embrace Michael Brown after kicking each other all game, Warnock says foreign players have brought glamour but decreased some of “the soul” of the top level. Sam had Scott Parker demand to leave his club not once but twice, at both Newcastle and West Ham.
Both memoirs are full of insight and humour, and I am sure an hour in their company with some whisky sours would be delightful. Who needs Mourinho when you could sit down with Allardicio?