The hypocrisy, sham and perverse values of modern sport in general and football in particular rolls on and plumbs new graceless and tasteless depths. Much of the sporting and indeed the national news of late has been concerned with the sacking, after only a few months, of David Moyes as manager of Manchester United. So much has been written on this matter that little new can be said. But, since everyone else has aired their views and for what it is worth I’ll put in my two pennyworth!
|The reflective, thoughtful and full of integrity David Moyes|
- but these qualities were not much in demand at Old Trafford
Firstly, Moyes had a very different style than his predecessor Alex Ferguson. There seems general agreement that Moyes was a reflective man, full of integrity and industry – but simply not up to the great task of managing a club like United. My own take is that he was probably always onto a loser. Following, as he did, a personality like Ferguson who totally dominated the club and his players – by a combination of sheer force of personality and simple brutal thuggishness – it would probably have been a surprise if anyone had succeeded. I have absolutely no doubt that whoever takes over from Moyes will have a much easier ride, simply because they are not following a dominating thug like Ferguson as Moyes had to do. I am reminded of my time in school. Whenever I went to take a class for a morning or afternoon if the class teacher was absent, on a course or taking some non-contact time it was remarkable the difference between classes. Those classes that were taught by a strong, dominating and confrontational teacher were always more difficult to handle than the ones taught each day by a more gentle soul, who allowed discussion and promoted personal respect. The only way to keep order in the class of the loud aggressive teacher was to be even more loud and aggressive than him or her – it was the only thing that the children knew. But keeping order in the class of the mild, professional teacher was a relatively easy step because respect and quiet mutual understanding where what they, the children, were used to – it was inherent in the class ethos and expectation. Quiet, industrious, thoughtful teachers beget quiet, thoughtful and industrious classes whereas loud, belligerent, dominating personalities produce classes with the same characteristics. In short children respond to what they are used to. Manchester United is no different – the children (i.e. the highly paid stars) at Manchester United clearly could not respond to Moyes’ more intelligent, professional and ultimately more acceptable manner – they needed to be dominated by a confrontational leader - it was all they had known. Aggression breeds aggression. Given time, I am absolutely convinced that Moyes would have slowly but surely turned around the mindset of the United dressing room to reflect his own positive and thoughtful values. Sadly the unforgiving Premiership monster which demands quick results and instant financial gratification doesn't deal in time or doing the right thing - aggression and belligerence cut the corners and give instant success and graceless gratification. But, I wonder, at what price for the long term good of the sport?
|Now that's more like it - we want a foul mouthed thug|
as the leader of Manchester United - it's all the
A second point might be that many pundits have argued that the highly paid stars of United would not, could not respect Moyes because he had not won the trophies that Ferguson had. In other words he was simply not good enough and didn’t command their “professional respect”. We were further told that these highly paid “professionals” need to be constantly motivated. Indeed one pundit commented “How do you make a professional footballer who is a millionaire and earns much more than you sweat?” Mmmmmmm – I might respond that an intrinsic part of being a professional is that you make yourself sweat – you do not (or should not) need external motivation to give of your best ! Indeed, I wonder in what sense they considered themselves professional? Yes, they are “professional” in the very narrow sense that they are paid, as opposed to being simply amateurs and playing for the love of the game, but “professional” also implies far more than payment. Maybe Moyes was expecting them to be “professional” – when clearly they were not – and consistently not giving of their best. In other words the thuggish domination of Ferguson was not there to drive them – so they sank back into the couldn’t care less mode. In fact, exactly like some of the classes of 11 year olds I have taught on a wet Wednesday afternoon when their dominating teacher is off on a course and they are being taught by someone else with different values – they cannot be bothered to raise themselves unless the teacher is even more threatening and belligerent than their usual teacher.
No, I believe that for someone to be considered professional there is an extra dimension – which clearly does not apply to Manchester United footballers (or indeed to any other modern soccer stars). I believe that anyone setting themselves out to be a “professional” is potentially subject to codes of conduct enshrining some ethical and/or moral obligations and that serve, perhaps, some important aspect of personal/public interest and the general good. If my plumber describes himself as “professional” then I assume that he not only has the skills to do the job and that I will pay him for his labours but because he is a “professional” he will have the highest standards, give me the correct advice and ensure that I pay a fair price for this advice and his labours. When I sit on the bus I expect the “professional” driver to not only drive the bus but drive it safely so that I arrive at my destination not only on time but also safely and in good order – that, it seems to me, is the nature of a professional approach. It is even more true with my doctor or my child’s teacher or my lawyer – I expect my child’s teacher to act in the best way possible at all times in order that my child makes good progress and is at all times safe and well cared for. I do not expect the teacher’s standards to fall simply because a new head teacher arrives with whom he or she disagrees. Similarly, I do not expect, as I lie in the operating theatre, the surgeon’s knife hovering over me to hear the surgeon say “Oh, I’m cheesed off today, that new administrator in charge of the hospital is totally useless, I really can’t be bothered about this operation – a couple of quick cuts will do it” No, because I expect him to be professional I also expect him or her to rise above these minor anxieties or moans and still produce the very best whatever the problems. And finally, I do not expect my lawyer to tell me, as he prepares my defence for the trial, that it’s his wedding anniversary and he has promised to take his wife out to lunch so he will only make a quick plea on my behalf when we enter the courtroom. No, I expect and rely upon him to do the very best on my behalf whatever his problems, concerns or personal plans. That is the nature of a true professional – but not, it seems, at Old Trafford, amongst the highly paid but not very professional millionaire stars. In their world, despite their huge salaries and despite the loyalty paid to them by millions of fans across the world, they only give of their best when it suits them – and David Moyes did not suit them. The problem at Manchester United (and, I suspect, at other clubs) seems to me to be not the talents, expertise and experience of David Moyes as the new (and now ex) manager but the lack of any real professionalism on the part of its overpaid and underachieving players.
|Well, we look like professionals - but we're only |
keeping up appearances. In real life we only do
what we feel like doing not what our professionalism
Of course, Manchester United stars are not alone in this. We are regularly reminded that the nation’s bankers will only give of their best if rewarded with huge bonuses in addition to their already eye watering salaries. If, as we have heard this week, Barclays and RBS do not pay the huge bonuses to their bankers then these people will, we are threatened resign and go off to work elsewhere. I assume that most of these people will have qualifications that say they are members of some professional body but I’m afraid that it seems to me if they only give of their best when rewarded there seems to be a bit of a problem with their understanding and interpretation of professionalism.
But back to football. After the Manchester United dust slowly settled I read last night of a small but saddening event at the top reaches of the “professional game” – I use the term “professional” loosely. As I reflected upon it I rapidly came to the conclusion that it says so much about the people involved at the top (and, sadly, further down) of the modern game.
|Caught on camera - the graceless and tasteless|
Jose Mourinho pokes the unsuspecting Tito Vilanova
in the eye
Yesterday the great Spanish club Barcelona sadly announced the death of their former manager Tito Vilanova. Vilanova, a quiet, studious man succeeded Pep Guardiola at Barcelona and won the Spanish league title in his only season in full charge. He died on Friday after a long battle with throat cancer. He was only 45. He had battled a recurring tumour after first becoming ill in November 2011, while assistant to Guardiola. He took a leave of absence after undergoing surgery. The soft-spoken Vilanova returned and took over from Guardiola the next season and led Barcelona to the Spanish league title with a record-equalling 100 points. He had a second tumour removed in December 2012 and travelled to New York several times during the season to receive further treatment before returning to the sidelines. In April 2013 Vilanova said he felt fine and "had never thought about quitting". He finished the season before suddenly being forced to resign following a relapse in July. As an assistant, Vilanova quietly helped Guardiola propel Barcelona into their most successful period and transform the team into one of the world's best ever. Barcelona won 14 of a possible 19 major trophies from 2008-12 under Guardiola before adding the league title with Vilanova in 2013. As Guardiola's assistant, Vilanova provided the tactical know-how that helped build one of the best teams in the history of the sport, winning two Champions League titles in their impressive haul. The Barcelona stars were universal in their praise of the man: Sergio Busquets described him as "so calm"; Andrés Iniesta said he is "like a book, he teaches you so much"; and Carles Puyol described him as "wonderful -discreet and hard-working". A long way this from the loud mouthed and aggressive Ferguson – maybe had David Moyes gone to Barcelona rather than United he would have made a huge success following Vilanova or Guardiola! As I found over the years in the classroom continuity of success is much easier when you don’t have to become a bigger monster than their regular teacher to aggressively drive the children! In short, Vilanova was the quiet unsung man, the brains, the planner, the teacher behind and underpinning the feted star Pep Guardiola – if ever a real life story reflects the words of the pop song “Wind beneath my wings” it is that of Vilanova and Guardiola. How sad that when Guardiola left Barcelona for pastures new and Vilanova’s chance came to be the star that the whole thing was snatched away from him so cruelly and so soon after taking the reins.
|I'm the special one - everybody knows me. I'm Mr Big -|
I'm very good at belittling people - and I certainly don't
do respect, charity or dignity.
But amongst the sadness there is another tale – which the sports writers soon dug out following the news of Vilanova’s death. It was the same story that came straight into my mind when I learned of his passing.
In the 2010 Spanish Super Cup won by Barcelona, Real Madrid's then coach (and now manager at Chelsea), José Mourinho, towards the end of the game between these two great clubs, crept up behind Vilanova and attacked the Barcelona assistant manager and poked him in the eye. If that is not bad enough at the end of the game Mourinho was asked about what he had done to Tito Vilanova. "Pito Vilanova?" he asked. "As for Pito Vilanova, or whatever his name is, I don't know what he is called, I have got nothing to say." By changing the first letter, Mourinho had turned Tito into Pito, Spanish slang for penis. He was clearly trying to belittle the Barcelona assistant. Asked again about the incident, he replied, rather like Peter denying knowing Jesus, "Pito Vilanova? Tito Vilanova, yes, I don't know who this person is."
|Tito Vilanova (left) with his mentor Pep Guardiola - gracious,|
quiet, unassuming and studious both of them
- but especially Vilanova. All that Ferguson and Mourinho are not.
What a truly awful individual Mourinho is. He is, like Alex Ferguson, loud unpleasant, full of his own importance (he calls himself as “the special one” ). In fact, they are both all that Tito Vilanova was not. On hearing of Vilanova’s death Mourinho issued a statement full of sham, hand wringing hypocrisy “Tito Vilanova’s passing is a sad day for football, for Barcelona and most importantly for his family and friends”. I wonder if he suspected or even cared as he crept up behind Vilanova and gouged the man’s eye in 2010 that in a couple of years or so Vilanova would be very seriously ill and later dead? But hey, this is sport and football where, as we have seen at Old Trafford in recent days, thoughtful action, honest and responsible professionalism and an awareness of the real strengths and value of people is an unknown and uncared for commodity. Modern sport and football in particular it seems have absolutely no place for the sort of qualities ascribed to Moyes and Vilanova - reflective, full of integrity industrious, calm, like a book, he teaches you so much, discreet, hard-working, soft-spoken quiet and studious. Mourinho’s callous actions in 2010 and Ferguson’s loud mouthed and thuggish aggression over many years are increasingly the watch word and what followers of football mindlessly aspire to and praise. Ferguson’s continual ranting at match officials and opposition and his “hair dryer treatment” of his own players; Mourinho’s mad ramblings and outrageous comments and actions give these individuals credibility in the overhyped and bizarre world of Premiership football. They know that whatever their behaviour all will be gobbled up by an unthinking and uncaring fan base and any extremes forgiven and forgotten as today’s headline news becomes tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. But as the legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi famously said: “You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader. You show me one who is not charitable, who has no respect for the dignity of another, is not loyal, and I will show you a man who is not a leader.” In Lombardi’s world Moyes and Vilanova were leaders who had their chance snatched away from them by the cruelties of football life and death. David Moyes, who, it is often said, is a good man has been a victim of the football monster – but hopefully he will rise again. Tito Vilanova is gone forever but perhaps his best memorial will be that in him Barcelona and the rest of the footballing world saw something better – that truly great teams and players exuding true professionalism can be created without aggression and belligerence, without loud mouthed boasting or unpleasant innuendo so typical of Ferguson and Mourinho.