Tuesday 22 August 2017

Vincent Hogan: Life on top of volcano not all it seems from the outside

Many Premier League bosses living a lie as they bury emotions in bid to look strong

In a new book, Brendan Rodgers has spoken openly about the pressure of management while being in the public eye
In a new book, Brendan Rodgers has spoken openly about the pressure of management while being in the public eye
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Do you imagine Jose Mourinho ever encounters moments of chronic self-doubt? That somewhere beneath that veneer of composure and practiced disdain for critics runs a thread of silent terror?

Most successful football managers seem decisive and lantern-jawed, innately authoritative figures, their minds programmed endlessly to solutions.

But imagine Mourinho, privately, wrestling with panic at every setback.

It requires quite a leap of the imagination perhaps, but lives lived under such relentless public scrutiny tend, quite often, to become a lie. As Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe puts it: "You're not superhuman but, as a manager, you can't be upset or weak because players are looking to you for strength."

That quote is taken from Michael Calvin's book 'Living on the Volcano - The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager', a remarkable insight into the often hopelessly neurotic world of those in charge of a professional football dressing-room.

Intimacy

Calvin was granted one-to-one access to managers from Premier League and lower divisions and that intimacy of engagement threads a faint tone of the confessional through his pages.

The highest-profile Premier League boss interviewed is Brendan Rodgers, Calvin cleverly capturing the paradox of a man whose jarring wall-motto expressions "I see myself as a welfare officer" seem so at odds with the openness and raw humanity he can articulate in less guarded moments.

Rodgers is favourite to be the first Premier League sacking of the season, but he comes across tough and defiant here, someone with far more emotional depth than his critics like to acknowledge.

"I've been through probably the most traumatic four years of my life since 2010," he tells Calvin.

"I lost my mum. I lost my dad. I split up from the woman I loved for 23 years. I had a court case, two Old Bailey trials over six weeks with my son who was charged with sexual assault, which was an absolute disgrace.

"Yet professionally, here and at Swansea, these have been the best four years of my life."

The problem with living in a bubble world is, I suspect, that it often seems safer to communicate in bubble soundbytes.

Mark Hughes, who Rodgers crosses swords with at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow, puts it rather well.

"Football magnifies human behaviour," he says. "It's a unique sport and there's so much focus on it. It's ridiculous."

Hughes, we are told, is a voracious on-line surfer of TED talks in his pursuit of self-improvement.

The threat of failure runs parallel to the promise of unemployment for every interviewee.

Chris Hughton's response to being sacked by Norwich last year was to undertake a course in corporate management so that he might better understand the thought processes of owners and directors.

And Brian McDermott opens up to Calvin about his coping mechanisms during life with the Massimo Cellino circus at Leeds United last season.

Intriguingly McDermott, son of a Sligo man and Clare woman, whose "life goal is to manage Ireland", suggests: "I have a theory there are a lot of depressed people in football, but they probably don't even know it because they are conditioned by the game. They are expected to overcome brutal things they regard as normal practice."

Alan Pardew recounts his public shame as Newcastle manager, having aimed that head-butt at Hull and Ireland midfielder David Meyler. Seeing the incident replayed on TV, Pardew reveals: "I'm watching myself as somebody else, as others see it. When I did so, I was shocked, deeply embarrassed for my fans, my family, my team."

Mick McCarthy revisits the madness of Saipan, even alluding to a discrepancy in Alex Ferguson's stance at the time and a speech he gave ten years later at Harvard.

"It could have scarred me," says McCarthy. "It certainly defined me. But it hasn't done me any harm."

Karl Robinson, a Liverpudlian now managing MK Dons, talks of being "lost for a while", living on his "three-a-day", of coffee, Nurofen and red wine.

The book conveys a fragile side of management most often kept obscured. Its real beauty is that it deals with people, not caricatures.

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