Managers get a major role in Premier League plot
7 May ~ The Premier League's most exciting ever season will end this Sunday. Well, that's what I heard on the BBC and Sky during the weekend. They have had less to say about it being three of the same old big four swapping places at the top of the table. As a close contest it had more to do with the inconsistency and obvious flaws of the top teams than the excellence of their football. And the sub-plot of teams competing to get their snouts in the fourth place of the Champions League trough has been taking place 16 points distant from the top – hardly an advert for competitive balance.
The more compelling stories have been off the pitch, involving managers. It seems a life time ago that Garry Cook, unaware of his self parody, was starring in the Premier League's equivalent of This Is Spinal Tap in the sacking of Mark Hughes. The press conference announcing Roberto Mancini's appointment was a highlight as the two men set out their competing accounts of the appointment process. From there Mancini's dress sense has been a story in itself, with almost as much speculation taking place about the cost of his overcoat as there was about the size of his summer transfer budget.
Some of the more forlorn images have come from Rafa Benítez's press conferences as the Liverpool's club image disintegrated under the errant stewardship of their American owners. As he fielded questions about the club's plight and his own position, Benítez increasingly resembled a student in an old-time foreign language class condemned to repeat the same words until they lose meaning – in his case it was a line about how he was only ever looking ahead to the next match in the fixture list.
Another manager forced to front up for the failings of his club's administration is Avram Grant. Like Paul Hart before him, he has maintained a quiet dignity in the face of the turmoil while plotting a route to the Cup final and handing off a prurient press invasion of his personal life with a worldly shrug of the shoulders. Elsewhere, dignity and good humour have characterised Gianfranco Zola's reaction to financial meltdown and a more intrusive new ownership at West Ham.
Although not working in the Premier League, José Mourinho has been a constant thread woven into many of these stories. He has twisted in and out with his return to Chelsea in the Champions League and the speculation that he might replace Mancini or Benítez next season. He is the ultimate Premier League manager, a mixture of self-promotion and a willingness to share a mischievous comment at every opportunity.
Maybe that's the point. These are all stories that are very much of the Premier League. It is the rolling news league. Every story, piece of speculation or careless quote gets an airing every 20 minutes or so. The stories of the league, its financial mismanagement and poor governance, are often told through the managers and their press conferences. In many ways the managers become the story, with every word and nuance given more exposure than a prime ministerial debate.
Meanwhile, across the North Sea a former England manager has just led his team to a league title and the speculation that Steve McClaren will be coaxed back to the Premier League has already started. No doubt he will become another managerial story. Why would he want to come back? Brian Simpson
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