Thursday 23 January 2020

Bosses stay on trend but dead end awaits on the mean streets

Dion Fanning

Barack Obama's re-election would, some suggested, end the culture wars that took up most of his first term as presidency and has consumed the lives of many Americans.

The Republican party would have to find a way of appealing to the minorities and other alien types such as women if they were to have a chance of winning again in a changing country.

These are the sane voices but there are others who say that Romney was not committed to the true Republican agenda. The Republicans may yet decide to have one last blow-out, to crank it up a notch and send out a true dingbat in an appeal to their base.

Yet when you're running against a man many in that base consider to be a Kenyan-born Muslim communist, it's hard to see how conditions could be any better in terms of getting the racist vote out. The culture wars may not be done yet. If the pollster Nate Silver represents the cool analytic view of American politics, Andre Villas-Boas once represented football's equivalent.

Perhaps AVB still does but at Tottenham it is hard to say as the impression grows that he is wrestling with his own ego if not the egos of the players.

AVB arrived in the Chelsea dressing room full of high ideals. He had a skinny tie and looked like one of those guys who wanted to change America alongside JFK.

When Lyndon Johnson spent some time gushing about the young aides surrounding Kennedy, one of his Texan sidekicks replied, "I'd feel a lot better if some of them had run for sheriff once."

A manager, like a politician, needs to be plausible and if he is, he can overcome anything.

AVB was an alien at Stamford Bridge, an impression that wasn't helped by stories that he slept in a pod at the Chelsea training ground while the players he was trying to dominate were at home, sleeping with other people's wives.

They seized on his inexperience, his failure to run for sheriff just once, but mainly they didn't find him plausible.

His strangeness couldn't be parlayed into authority, he was Guy Pearce in LA Confidential trying to handle a roomful of Bud Whites.

His return at Tottenham has been strange. At Spurs, he appears to have gone against his instincts. He has, they say, tried to be warmer and to be a bit more respectful of the players. At times, he looks like one of those Tory politicians trying to act as if they have feelings too, like John Redwood singing the Welsh national anthem or William Hague wearing a baseball cap to the Notting Hill carnival.

He has also come to represent the future with Harry Redknapp, a good ol' boy, the symbol of the past. AVB doesn't seem as comfortable representing the future right now, perhaps considering that his own future will be in the past if he fails at Tottenham.

Last weekend, some Spurs fans were said to be pining for Redknapp after the defeat at home to Wigan and Villas-Boas's decision to take off Jermain Defoe. On Thursday night, he responded to the demand of the crowd by playing 4-4-2, a move so retrograde in AVB's world, it would be like Obama acknowledging there might be something in this Creationist stuff after all.

In some ways, AVB might be quite old-fashioned with his insistence that the manager matters and he should work 22 hours a day, resting only briefly in a pod underneath his desk. The future might be for no manager -- Roberto Di Matteo is the closest actual equivalent -- or for bad managers like Roberto Mancini who can offer an inbuilt handicap when a club has all the money in the world.

Villas-Boas offers an alternative to Di Matteo. Di Matteo is becoming an alluring figure, simply through his lack of allure. Di Matteo is mesmerising in his ability to say nothing and to say it often. He makes Sven-Goran Eriksson sound like Frankie Boyle. AVB thinks too much of himself to stay quiet. Yet his career is at a point where it can go in two directions, although I'd bet on it going in one.

He may have a chance of prospering as a symbol, in a way as American presidents are pretty much just a symbol these days. Obama is a better symbol to push out front while the guys from Morgan Stanley take care of business than Mitt Romney, no matter how unintentionally hilarious Mitt was.

AVB with his incomprehensible bullshit and his abstract theories might still feel he can do some good.

He represented the future once and when Harry is the alternative, perhaps he still does. Increasingly, he represents only himself which is better but which will not necessarily prevent his downfall.

* * * * *

Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers made some more headlines last week with his determination to stamp out the practice by Tottenham fans of chanting 'Yid Army', something that came about as a reaction to anti-Semitic chants. Spurs are perceived as a Jewish club.

Herbert said it was not acceptable for Jewish fans to chant this and, according to the Daily Mail report, he said it was equally intolerable for opposing fans to make hissing noises which are supposed to mimic gas chambers when they play Spurs.

They are not equally intolerable. One should not be tolerated, one has a self-awareness about it which makes it something else entirely. You can dispute its use but they are not the same. It's the difference between Chris Rock saying 'nigger' and Bernard Manning saying it.

The problem with Herbert and his zero-tolerance approach is the problem zero tolerance causes in any strand of life. If everybody is a racist, then nobody is a racist. If the Jewish fans of Tottenham who chant 'Yid Army' are said to be as anti-Semitic as the fans who make hissing noises, then those racists making hissing noises can feel it's just political correctness gone mad. If Herbert gives them any reason to think that they're victims too, then he is doing more harm than good. And he's not doing much good at all.

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