‘Shouting on the Inside’: The Art of Non-Verbal Management in Football
Following his post-match interview at the weekend, which basically consisted of him saying “I prefer not to speak” over and over, it has been announced that Jose Mourinho will henceforth manage Chelsea football club through the medium of mime. His decision is partly based on hoping to avoid getting into trouble with the English F.A. for criticising referees but is also a recognition of the fact that his team got beaten, whereas they turned their previous game around after Jose had, according to himself, said absolutely nothing to them at half-time. “I have also been inspired by Alan Pardew’s embrace of Physical Theatre”, Jose expressed – through a series of fluid gestures – in reference to the Newcastle manager’s recent headbutting of an opposing player.
Obviously no-one wants to be left behind in utilising new approaches which may yield results, so it’s no surprise to discover that other Premiership managers have quickly announced similar initiatives. Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has enlisted in clown-school, saying, “Well, I’ve got quite big feet, and you know what they say about big feet … that you may as well get clown shoes”. David Moyes has claimed that his pale vacant gaze is not borne out of fear but rather of the fact that he has all along been managing Manchester United through the medium of Japanese Noh-theatre. While Arsene Wenger has expressed annoyance at Jose’s appropriation of what he considers to be a specifically French artform and has instead had to make do with ‘jazz-hands’ at Arsenal.
Chris Hughton has been talking calmly and rationally to footballers for many years but, after a frustrating season with Norwich, he has decided to give his team-talks from now on through interpretive dance. And Gus Poyet is currently in the process of having himself covered from head-to-toe in plaster-of-paris in order to inspire his Sunderland players through Marina Abramovic-style performance-art.
Many managers claim that non-verbal management is an idea that is of-its-time because of the make-up of modern dressing-rooms. One manager commented, “Half of the players can’t understand English. And the other half are foreign”. Indeed some of the managers are not fluent English-speakers themselves and, in order to cut down on the costs of interpreters, Southampton’s manager Mauricio Pochettino has for some time now been communicating with his players solely through a selection of inspirational images such as a lighthouse withstanding a huge wave and a sky-diving team joining hands in mid-flight. Pochettino admits that one week some photos from his summer-holidays got mixed up with the inspirational pictures, but they won that week so he has kept up the habit of slipping in photos of himself on the beach in swimwear whenever he feels the squad need a lift.
Tony Pulis is derided by many for producing football that, though organised and effective, can sometimes seem rudimentary. But imposing order on the disorganised rabble of players you might find in the lower-half of the league is no easy feat, and this explains why every summer Pulis can be found doing refresher training-courses at sheepdog trials around Britain. The control he exerts through staccato whistles and barked commands is such that it’s suggested he could be a genuine contender if the BBC brings back ‘One Man and His Dog’.
Sam Allardyce, as always, belies his gruff ordinary-bloke exterior by claiming to have been ahead of the curve. “I learn from the best”, says Big Sam, explaining that he has taken on the technique of Alex Ferguson, who for years was expressing his feelings to his players through nothing more than the way in which he was chewing his gum.
Steve Bruce played under Ferguson and realised that, when he made the transition into management himself, he would need a similar technique of his own. And so, for years now, he has been letting his players know how he feels purely by controlling the blood-flow to his head. As his dissatisfaction rises, so too does his face become redder and redder until it appears to be on the point of bursting which acts as an urgent call-to-arms to his players and their positive response will cause his face to return to a paler hue.
At Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini boasts that he can command his team through nothing more than the wriggling of his impressive eyebrows. It’s well known that Pellegrini studied as a civil engineer, but it’s less well-known that he also instructed those two kids in eyebrow-wriggling for that Cadbury’s ad on tv.
However, not everyone is enamoured with the new trend for mixing physical art-forms and football management. Spurs gaffer, Tim Sherwood said, “I may not know a lot about football, but I know what I like. … I mean ‘art’. I meant to say ‘art’, not ‘football. … You’ll put that in the right way round, won’t you?” (before folding his arms in a bloke-ish man-of-the-people manner whose effect was undermined by the fact that he was wearing a shiney sleeveless gilet jacket).
(clown pic by Robert Lawton, Moyes face by Eddie Lennon, BohemianFC)