Tuesday 20 August 2019

Comment: Overblown arguments between pundits and managers setting agenda because players are invisible

Players becoming invisible in era of a managerial soap opera struggling for decent storylines

Mourinho, Klopp and Guardiola
Mourinho, Klopp and Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Aidan O'Hara: Outside the Box

I was once on holiday in Buenos Aires when, along with the person who is now my wife, we went into a café having more than likely snarled at each other for the previous half hour because we were over-heated and over-hungry.

There was no menu available in English so, being the clever people that we are, we decided to order what we believed was the daily special because what else could 'Speciale Del Dias' mean. Argentina being famous for its steak, perhaps it would be a fine fillet or, given that it was 30 degrees on a Sunday afternoon, maybe it would be a fish dish or a nice salad.

So when the waiter started walking towards us with two huge slices of cream cake, there were a few quizzical looks from the locals. The two Irish kept their heads down and left quickly - obviously after eating the cake.


The point of this mediocre holiday story is that this column's ability to speak or understand Spanish isn't great so there was little point in reading 'Marca' last Tuesday.

In all likelihood, it would have analysed the strength of La Liga given that the top six players in the Ballon d'Or vote all play in Spain with Cristiano Ronaldo voted the best in the world for the fourth time. Behind him, again, was Lionel Messi, then Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Gareth Bale.

There may have been some lamenting that, of the six nationalities, none of them were Spanish while Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos were nominated on 30-player shortlist but didn't receive a single vote. However, in terms of the quality of player in the league, there's no doubt that 'Marca', if they wanted, could boast about having the cream of the world's talent.

In contrast, around the Premier League coverage, there were a few column inches given to the achievements of Rihad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in finishing seventh and eighth in the vote but given that both were then part of a Leicester team losing 1-0 to Bournemouth to stay in 14th position, nobody was confident that they'd ever be seen again in such exalted company.

Instead, the Premier League's media were focusing on an argument between a manager defending his goalkeeper against comments made by people on television. The focus in the two countries was indicative of the strengths of the two leagues.

The Premier League craves the oxygen of publicity which regularly distracts from the quality of its matches so why analyse the reasons that no player from the league made the world's top three for the sixth season in a row when you can take sides in the argument between Jurgen Klopp, Loris Karius and Gary Neville.

It's bizarre that Neville, his brother Philip and Jamie Carragher seemed to take such umbrage at Karius's decision to defend himself against criticism given how critical they were of the struggling goalkeeper. They may not have expected his reaction to come publicly but they had to expect a reaction - and it takes a special kind of arrogance to slate somebody's professional performance and then offer advice on the way they should have replied.

In the jersey-pulling, non-handshake, two-footed-tackle controversy world of the Premier League, arguments between pundits and managers are among the most tiresome but will only grow further given the invisibility of so many players.

For all the billions which companies pay for rights, it's bizarre that they don't demand greater access to players who may or may not say something interesting but would at least offer a different face and voice to the manager. Instead, the cult of the coach grows and given how few of their players feature in the world's best, it's unsurprising that so much is made of being the home of the game's most high-profile managers. They can at least console themselves that if 'France Football' ever invents the 'Dugout d'Or' award, the Premier League will have better representation.

Klopp, at least, was defending his player before taking the decision to drop him but where they oxygen of publicity really starts to choke is when Stan Collymore is listing reasons why Pep Guardiola (below) should know who he is.

In his 'Daily Mirror' column, Collymore wrote: "If Pep doesn't know who I am, that's absolutely fine, all he needs to do is watch Sky Sports, there's usually the 4-3 game (Liverpool v Newcastle, 1996) on, or used in an advert. Maybe he could give the former manager of his current club, Stuart Pearce, a call and ask him about who Nottingham Forest's greatest 11 is, managed by a true great of the game, rather than one spoon-fed lots of cash to get success.

"Or ask Robbie Fowler, Liverpool legend, and someone I'm sure Pep knows the name of, who his best strike partner was amongst Owen, Rush, Viduka, Shearer, Cole et al."

Even allowing for City's recent problems, Guardiola still must feel like the most popular person at a teenage party with every question he faces dripping with desire to be validated. He probably does know who Collymore is, but the reality is that he doesn't care.


It's an approach best summed up by Fabio Capello who asked: "Why should I waste my time listening to people who are clearly less intelligent than me?"

Jose Mourinho, too, should have taken the high road with Michael Owen's criticism of Zlatan Ibrahimovic but, instead, chose to compare the records of the two which gave added publicity to Owen whose opinion, as usual, wasn't that interesting to start with.

"The reality is that Zlatan will score more goals in one season than Michael Owen in three seasons," added Mourinho to much hilarity among the studio panel who, while analysing a match, have managed to make themselves part of the story.

Somewhere along the line, the players themselves may come back into focus but when overblown arguments between pundits and managers can set the agenda, it has become a nonsense in any language.

Irish Independent

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