SV Column: Cult of personality and overreaction
The European football season has finally started, my fellow football aficionados. Well, technically it started when some fairly unknown teams competed in the first qualifying round of the Champions League – which was back in late June. But let’s be honest, the big leagues set the rhythm. And the Premier League – from now on without the prefix “English” – is certainly at the forefront.
Hold on before you start to dispute over the quality of English football these days. Professional sports is entertainment. And who is a better entity within the entertainment business than England’s primary football competition? Emotion, passion, chaos, craziness – all the stuff that generates headlines and makes TV producers ecstatic.
The Premier League is built around memorable moments and the stars who can be seen fighting, screaming, winning or losing in those moments. In order to push business even more, you need recognizable faces. What a coincidence, Premier League teams invest millions and millions in every transfer window period to sign new faces. And it is not like a club solely benefits from the qualities a player has on the pitch. Marketing values are almost as important.
That said, it appears the lads in the suits take centre stage more and more often. There is nothing wrong with debating about who is the better centre-forward, Lukaku or Diego Costa. But talking about Pep Guardiola’s philosophy or Jürgen Klopp’s mind-set is the real s**t. And we who love to decode strategies and analyse the smallest details aren’t free of guilt that coaches become the focus of attention even more strongly than in recent decades.
It is understandable, though. The duel between two humans can be so highly intriguing. We love these shootouts somewhere in the Wild West or the nerve-racking thrill between brilliant chess players. Give me Pep versus José every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Sadly, this excitement about coaches and their decision can lead to unhealthy exaggeration – and can make us forget that there are real still players on the pitch who make decisions on their own despite being guided.
While Guardiola had his first league match with Manchester City on Saturday, social media was buzzing. Every step the Catalan made was analysed to the last detail. Some called him a fraud; some worshipped him like he is a football god incarnate.
First of all, the football community as a whole should dial it down a notch. We can still have fun debating about the game without looking too ridiculous at the same time. And especially when it comes to coaches like Guardiola, both sides – the admirers and the detractors – should reduce a certain degree of defensiveness.
In a recent interview Alan Curbishley moaned about the low amount of English coaches in the top two leagues in England. And it certainly is strange that in 2016 so many guys who are at the touchlines come from outside the system – although in professional sports only performance should count, not one’s passport.
Unfortunately, Curbishley’s exact argument is basically that “the English manager is being squeezed out in the top two leagues as a consequence of foreign ownership.” That sounds rather ignorant. Maybe there is a trend these days that foreign coaches have a greater appeal thanks to the success of guys like Pochettino, Koeman or Mourinho – and certainly the appeal of world-class coaches like Guardiola is a given. Yet, that doesn’t mean there is some kind of conspiracy going on.
The English community shouldn’t feel the need to defend their identity – which can lead to belittling foreign coaches without any valid argument. And on the other side, those who usually discredit the typical style of football that has been played there for a long time shouldn’t belittle everything that is associated with English football. Similar to unnecessary exaggeration in regards to single figures in the business, a forced Kulturkampf doesn’t help the game. We need some sort of middle ground.