Crossing the Line
By: Jonathan Townsend
March 18, 2014
Football is the physical manifestation of pure passion on the pitch. The modern game’s stakes are increasing at an alarming rate as the season becomes more unforgivable. The pressure on each player’s shoulders is matched by the blood pressure of the managers on the touchline. In recent weeks, a select group of managers have become the actual storyline the pundits and public find themselves talking about ad nauseam.
Make no mistake, every play needs a strong cast of actors and football is no different. The playacting on the pitch has somehow bled over to the charade on the sidelines. Alan Pardew’s moments (plural) of madness notwithstanding, the line is being crossed weekly by the managers of the Premier League—literally and figuratively.
In Chelsea’s recent collapse against an inspired Aston Villa side, José Mourinho proffered an excellent example of elaborate contradictions in his post-match interview. After the dismissal of Willian and Ramires, combined with the abject performance of his team that saw Fabian Delph score a nifty goal late-on, Mourinho found himself sent to the stands by referee Chris Foy. Since 2004, José Mourinho has always been the story—he’s a journalist’s dream as even the most off-the-cuff comment is loaded with fodder for a story. In the dying minutes of a match that Aston Villa were trying to kill off, Ramires lunged in and stamped on Karim El Ahmadi, resulting in a maddening scene of which Mourinho was typically at the epicenter.
Mourinho, surprisingly, refused to comment on any of those incidents. “I prefer not to speak. If I speak, I will be in trouble and I don’t want to be,” he said. “I don’t want to do something that we are not allowed to do. We are not allowed to speak about the referees. I don’t want to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.”
The Chelsea manager, in saying “nothing” said it all as he commented at length about Chris Foy’s refusal to validate his decision to send Willian off earlier. This is hardly the first time Mourinho has found himself involved in a fracas, but in typical Mourinho fashion when asked whether he expected punishment. “Me? Me, or the ref? No, I don’t expect, because I did nothing.”
Tim Sherwood has also been at the forefront of more than a few criticisms in recent weeks. After his honeymoon period in charge of Tottenham Hotspur after the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood has shown a temperament seldom seen or tolerated in the Premier League these days.
After capitulating against Chelsea, Sherwood openly called his players out for their lack of guile and application on the pitch. Such outbursts were the norm a decade ago, but today’s player has more protection and power than ever before. In the their recent defeat against North London rivals, Arsenal, Sherwood was shown in bouts of fury on the sideline as he threw his vest and stammered in seething rage. Later in the match, as Arsenal began to bleed the clock and it became clear that Tottenham had no fight left in them, Sherwood hurled the out-of-play ball at Bacary Sagna as the Frenchman leisurely walked over to take the ensuing throw not once, but twice. Perhaps it is ironic that Sherwood, a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve wears a garment sans sleeves. For all his faults, Sherwood’s outbursts and criticisms resonate south of favorable for the Englishman. Unlike Mourinho, Sherwood has neither the charisma, experience, nor the media on his side.
All jokes aside, both men are deflecting attention away from their shortcomings on the day. Mourinho is the puppeteer of the media and mind games looking for a playmate now that Sir Alex Ferguson finds himself a silent witness to the collapse at Manchester United. In Arsène Wenger, Mr. Mourinho has found a stale opponent in the verbal jousting matches whereas David Moyes has no room to engage in anything more than trying to prove he can save Manchester United from even more embarrassment. Tim Sherwood is clearly a victim of his own temper, flawed tactics and of a side players whimsically bought with the Gareth Bale money who have shamefully under-performed under both Villas-Boas and himself.
Long gone are the days where managers could issue the public call-outs and hairdryer treatment to players. This generation is different. This Premier League is different. But, this is where the conundrum is most frustrating for many supporters and analysts. Shouldn’t players be held accountable for their poor public performances? Or, should all of the criticisms be reserved for a closed-door session away from the speculative eyes of the media and public capable of smelling a drop of blood in an ocean of controversy? In all honesty, this generation of players would probably quit football if they had a man telling them the brutal truth like John Sitton famously did at Leyton Orient in front of the camera.
Football, in many ways, has changed in ways many of us cannot relate to. Many a reader can remember a savage halftime shellacking at their own expense. Not ten years ago, the Premier League was a hard man’s league. Diving and simulation were present, but not at the rate it is presently. Tackles like the one Ramires committed were common (and still disgusting), but the likelihood a manager would end up on the field arguing the point was less than likely. The modern football manager is just as much a celebrity as the modern footballer. There is no place to hide, no comment goes unrecorded and no emotion escapes analysis and speculation. Some will commend emotional coaches like Mourinho and Sherwood (albeit they are very much different men and managers) for “taking the attention away from their players”, or their flawed tactics; and others will condemn their public displays as those of petulance and petty attention-seeking. But, like Paul Weller’s famously crooned in the 1980 hit, “That’s Entertainment” by The Jam, it surely is entertainment for the football-consuming world—and the show must go on. And where ever it goes, we’ll all be waiting.