Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 January 2020

There's more than one way to drown out the whining voices

Dion Fanning

I n Britain last week, they decreed that being honest was now questionable behaviour. They found a politician who told the truth and they complained. Turns out the people were lying: they prefer it when politicians aren't honest.

England is in a frenzy of outrage and it doesn't matter what it's about. Those who complain about Gordon Brown saying one thing to somebody's face and another when he slumps into his car happily pass on the latest internet rumours about Premier League footballers which, the more lurid they become, the more accurate they are supposed to be.

It's no wonder Brown struggles. He is a man best suited to the 19th century and consequently is sabotaged whenever he tries to enter any period from the late 20th century onwards. But he admits his faults. Perhaps he has no option: no man who has taken smiling lessons could ever claim with conviction to be comfortable in the post-television age which, so far, seems pretty similar to the television age.

Brown comes alive when he talks about "My deficit reduction plan" the same way James Brown, no relation, comes alive when he announces "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag". Both are hard-working men. Both are misunderstood.

Politics takes itself too seriously considering most of it is concerned with the superficial. Football thrives despite its enthusiasm for the same superficialities.

There was once a time when it seemed that Craven Cottage would, in the language of estate agents, afford some of the most spectacular views in London. It still does but not from a penthouse and there aren't too many executive boxes.

To get off the tube at Putney Bridge and walk along the Thames to Craven Cottage on a sunny day is to connect with the soul of English football. It could be 1950 when everyone was happy and Gordon Brown was a modern man.

They have a nostalgia for now at Fulham.

When Arthur Hopcraft wrote The Football Man he was, perhaps, not thinking of Mohamed Al Fayed, but last week, the man who once employed Mickey Adams and Lawrie Sanchez was explaining how a man can be a kindly foreign owner. The answer might be: employ a good manager and not call in your debts.

Al Fayed is owed approximately £180m by Fulham so this is not exactly the story of a modest club.

If Sam Allardyce wants to complain about the opportunities denied to English managers in England, he might consider the career of Roy Hodgson first.

Hodgson is a man from another era too. He is like one of those men from an English World War II film who was deaf in one ear so was never sent to the front. Instead, he stays behind, offering kindly advice to the war widows and doing rudimentary DIY. He becomes a father-figure to the youth, dispensing quiet and perceptive words to those who look like they could be stepping out of line.

He certainly lacks a brashness present in men like Allardyce. He lacks their sense of entitlement too but he has travelled to achieve, moving beyond the limiting walls of English football without complaining that it had ignored him while allowing somebody like Allardyce or Peter Reid several chances.

Now he is English football's patriarch, a man with all the answers and those he can't provide are given by Al Fayed.

If Hodgson were to run across the pitch with his arm aloft to celebrate a victory, he would probably resign on the spot. But then, for all his strengths, Roy Hodgson is not a genius.

The reasonable argument says Jose Mourinho would still be a genius if he did not run across the pitch at the Nou Camp and there is nothing wrong with that argument. But Jose Mourinho would not be a genius if he was prepared to listen to reasonable arguments. As he did so often at Chelsea, he took away from his side's achievement last Wednesday night.

In this instance, it won't be a flaw that will stop Real Madrid from hiring him in the summer and it is unlikely to make Manchester United hesitate when it comes to looking for Alex Ferguson's successor.

Manchester United are a great club and the supporters who oppose the Glazers may also wonder about a manager who demands such loyalty. Supporters like to give unconditional love and while United fans learned to ignore aspects of Ronaldo's character, it may be harder with a manager who asks that his excesses are tolerated.

Mourinho is a modern manager. His belief in his achievements preceded his achievements and he appeals to the floating football fan with his arrogance and his stunts.

Roy Hodgson would probably like to give him some advice about all that stuff but Roy Hodgson is too humble and too wise to think that Jose Mourinho needs any advice from him.

Mourinho has made his play. His genius brings his players with him and the rest ensures the television audience. He was perfectly suited to a club like Chelsea where there were enough new supporters to get excited about that stuff and drown out the dissenting voices. They were all united by his success. He will return to England soon, to a league drowning in debt and the whiny voices of men like Allardyce who will wonder when they will get their chance.

They can't compete with genius and they can't compete with Hodgson, who shows what willingness can achieve.

English football endures, despite itself sometimes and despite the refusal of the steering committee that forms opinion to listen to men like Hodgson. He was ignored for too long and seen as a relic. But he didn't need smiling lessons to make people happy.

Sunday Independent

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