Football fans predisposed to the dubious quality that is BANTER were sent into a frenzy of anticipation this summer at the thought that the Premier League would welcome back Jose Mourinho and Ian Holloway. Appropriated by the LAD community as two of its chosen sons, these most YouTubeable of characters brought with them the promise of all sorts of shenanigans. Purveyors of the burgeoning ‘ladgaffer’ hashtag must therefore be dismayed to notice that Jose and Ollie have apparently left behind their usual armoury of quips in favour of a more dour approach to management. Could it be that the comics now wish to be taken as serious actors?
Mourinho reconvened with the British press upon his return to Stamford Bridge and immediately sought to lay a ghost of the past to rest. The ‘Special One’ gimmick was to be scrapped in favour of something altogether more responsible; he was now to be considered the ‘Happy One’. Even the most ardent of Chelsea fans would have to agree that such a nickname is bad banter. Since then he has been busy trying to convince us all that he is a changed man, apparently scarred by a turbulent life in Madrid. There will be no more japing, no more capering, no more ballyhoo.
Sky Sports have so far broadcast footage of the Portuguese wrapping press room custard creams in a napkin for later consumption, as if to highlight their desperation for something more provocative: ‘This is all we’ve got! We’re sorry! We’ll let you know as soon as he does something really crazy!’ Paul Lambert’s touchline histrionics during Aston Villa’s 2-1 defeat to the Blues drew nothing more than a fraternal hair-ruffling from big brother Jose: “He reminds me of myself 10 years ago when I was complaining every decision […] I like him, no problem.” Some took his doomed courting of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney as evidence that he still has a touch of devilment to him, but given Rooney’s long-standing ennui, Mourinho can’t be accused of disrupting a man who first agitated for a transfer as far back as 2011.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. Is Mourinho being genuine, or is he merely lulling those around him into a false sense of security before he returns to the swaggering braggadocio of old? His current disposition evokes memories of Joaquin Phoenix in the mockumentary film I’m Still Here, which purported to show the enigmatic actor setting out to establish a hip-hop career. A bedraggled Phoenix appeared in public to discuss his new career, steadfastly maintaining character in order to perpetuate the ruse. Mourinho’s turnaround could be nothing more than an outrageous exercise in audience manipulation, a dutiful attempt at reintegration before the interest wanes, confidence is restored and old habits return to the fore.
As for Ian Holloway, he is now managing a Premier League side for the second time in his career, after the daring up-and-at-’em approach of his 2010/11 Blackpool side ultimately proved costly. He finds himself in a similar position this campaign with Crystal Palace, having taken up an over-achieving and ill-equipped team via the Championship play-offs. Having won people over with his sense of humour, the self-styled comedy yokel sought to reinvent himself as he struggled in vain to find low-budget methods to orchestrate an unlikely survival mission, citing the tiki-taka of the Spanish-led zeitgeist as an ambitious philosophical life raft upon which to float hope.
Then, as now, this largely went unnoticed as people were adequately distracted by the occasional glib remark. With Blackpool he spoke with self-reflection on how he needed to take himself more seriously as a manager. Upon his Premier League return with Palace, Holloway has continued to air his Spiderman duvet cover in public, by confessing the need for maturity: “I’m just trying to talk in a way that people don’t think I’m funny. I’m fed up with that. I’m not a comedian, I’m a football manager.” Some comments have even bordered on the self-pitying, to wit: “I am stressed to hell”; “Scrap the [transfer] window. Then us people who’ve just come up might just have a chance of catching some of these big people”. After his side lost their opening game to Tottenham, he incurred the wrath of the FA after pre-emptively criticising referees, saying “It’s going to be a long hard season for me with these people”.
When recently discussing his problems during the transfer window, he offered another revealing soundbite: “It’s like a casserole, like a cake. You need all different types of ingredients. That’s gospel truth, so don’t turn this into a mad Holloway…whatever.” This is a man fighting in vain to avoid being typecast, the comic foil with guarded dreams of Shakespeare. Of course, some people find his new vein of melancholy too cloying, meaning Holloway is now competing for the unlikely Grand Slam of becoming annoying for being both too funny and too earnest. Much like Robin Williams, Holloway has lurched too suddenly from Mrs Doubtfire-style tomfoolery to the mawkish sentiment of Patch Adams, or any film where Williams has a thick beard.
If reinvention is the aim for this beleaguered duo, it seems unfair that they should be chided for such a thing. A lack of self-awareness is a criticism that can be levelled at so many of their peers, so surely Mourinho and Holloway should be commended for their desire to rectify behaviour that they saw as somehow unacceptable. The fact that they’ve shared such epiphanies in public, making us aware of their quest for change, is a part of that process. They want us to be aware of what’s ahead for them so there are no nasty surprises.
In short, they are preparing the aforementioned LAD community for the imminent BANTER withdrawal. They do it because they care. They may have rejected you, but they still love you. Perhaps they just don’t have good banter any more.