The Capital Cup Final was great to watch. Certainly from half time onwards it contained all the ingredients required to entertain which is, after all, what football, as an industry, needs to keep central to its mission.
Professional sport is a competitive space and indeed sport is just one part of what we consumers – those of us fortunate enough to be able to – choose to spend our pound on in any given week in order to be “entertained”. Whether that is by being physically at the ground, or watching on television you are a paying customer.
Mind you, some of the time, given that we have chosen to pay to be “entertained” we would or should have grounds for suing the participants under the Trades Description Act. This inherent flaw is rooted in the pressure to succeed; the extraordinary financial differences between success and failure and, for the managers of football clubs in professional football certainly, the pressure to win because not to do so with some degree of regularity would leave you prone to the sack! This has to be a contributor to the apparent predisposition of so many football managers to forget that, at the heart of the industry of which they are a part, the entertainment gene needs to be protected.
Liverpool and Manchester City have managers who appear to understand that point. Managers are football’s equivalents of the Directors in the film industry – working the script, coaching the performers and overseeing the execution of the narrative from the sidelines. The key difference, of course, is that the narrative has no script and simply unfolds in front of them as it does all of us and, apart from a fifteen minute discussion with the principals half way through the event, the managers are almost as powerless as are we watching in the stands, the pub or from our living room sofa. They are in the cauldron. They feel the pressure, more so than the performers they have cast in the leading roles and their behaviour receives a level of scrutiny that no “off screen” or “off stage” participant in other forms of entertainment would ever experience.
The managers have the best seats in the house but they rarely use them; choosing instead to jump up and down, stride threateningly towards the 4th official, gesticulating wildly at some perceived injustice and even occasionally theatrically demonstrating what some opposition player has just done in the vain hope that this could convince the officials to reverse a decision. One of the interesting things about Wembley yesterday was the approach of two managers who adopt a considerably lighter touch than has been the norm.
Pellegrini I have met, some years ago when he was manager of Real Madrid and we did some work for the club. I was taken by how normal he was, low key, sincere, legitimate. Everything was done without fuss and despite the environment in which he worked he understood absolutely that it was not about him. I believe he has been a source of real value for Manchester City and that his influence on the club over and above trophies won will be felt for many years to come.
Last week I had lunch with a player who played under Klopp at Dortmund for a number of seasons including winning the Bundesliga. The impression I had formed of the manager was reinforced by this player’s testimony of a man who he said was completely comfortable in his abilities but also in recognising his role as being to craft the work of his squad not to dominate it; a man who knew that it was about entertainment but that it was the players who had that task and, perhaps most importantly, given the inherent quality of Liverpool as a city and the special character of its people, a manager who epitomised a standard of behaviour which would reflect the club’s unique standing and history.
In very different ways it seems that both Jurgen Klopp and Manuel Pellegrini share some important characteristics that the game itself needs to embody at all levels and, above everything else, they have always appeared, to me at least, to go about their work in a manner that is authentic and that focuses attention where it should be focused – the field of play. In some way I think that shone through at Wembley yesterday.