Jose and Ollie: Going Straight

A right pair of characters

A right pair of characters

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.

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The Impregnable Zen of Roberto Martinez

On Match of the Day last week Roberto Martinez did something that I’ve seen him do before, and will surely see him do again. In an interview after the match, which his Wigan side had just lost, 2-1 to Swansea, he was smiling and laughing at some joke or other. It doesn’t matter what the joke was – he just looked composed, refusing to be mournful in defeat. And that’s the point.

He isn’t the only manager to ever joke during an otherwise tedious post-match interview, but I’m sure he’s one of a minority of men to do so after their team has just lost, certainly by such a narrow margin, in a match they will look back on as one they probably needed to have won. Martinez offers something lacking in many of his counterparts though. His laidback, likeable attitude demonstrates a sense of impregnable zen, of a man who is entirely in control of his own destiny.

He possesses the air of calculated, unflustered precision you might expect from a man with a qualification in business management. But Wigan’s status as the Premier League’s black sheep stymies his own reputation, with the Spaniard conveniently dismissed by neutrals as someone merely doing a mucky, unpopular job so no-one else has to do it. Many neutral fans regard him with the same sense of casual ‘oh yeah, him’ disinterest that they might otherwise reserve for binmen, or the cashier at Tesco.

These same fans have reluctantly accepted that Wigan will successfully struggle for survival each season, until a brighter future dawns and they are no longer polluting the 20-team elite with their scarcely-full rugby town stadium. They’ve done so without affording them anything similar to the brotherly warmth of relegation rascals of yore, such as the Coventry City of Dion Dublin or the Southampton of Matt Le Tissier. This is largely due to the aforementioned apathy of the club’s local area, outwardly from which spreads a national pandemic of anti-Wigan sentiment. It’s not even so much ‘anti’ Wigan, so much as a pervading sense of persistent nuisance that can be best surmised by a Larry David-style ‘eeeeh’ shrug.

Despite this, the fact is that Wigan have maintained a stable, steady existence in the nourishing environs of the Premier League for a greater span of time than other clubs including Queens Park Rangers, Stoke and West Brom. Much of it might well be to do with that smiling acceptance of their manager, which exudes an authoritative calmness that says “It’s cool man, I got this.” Greater managers can only dream of coping with defeat better than Martinez can (Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger spring to mind), but then the Spaniard, and moreover Wigan, have had so much practice after all. Their perpetually renewed stay of execution precludes them from the opportunity of a confidence-boosting sabbatical in the Championship. Some modern yo-yo clubs such as Wolves and West Ham go down only to return with renewed vigour after a season spent racking up more ‘W’s’ in the form column than usual. By contrast, Wigan have been steadily applying themselves to the self-flagellating business of losing for the past seven years, with impressive-yet-miserable results. In those seven seasons they have lost 46% of their league games, winning just 29%. And yet that’s not been enough to banish them from English football’s top table since they first took residence there.

Given the rumours of impending managerial casualty that have so far circled Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Nigel Adkins, it’s refreshing to know that there is still a manager slipping under that particular radar who can get away with losing games on a constant basis and yet still revel in some semblance of job security. This could be the secret behind that Martinez smile. He is imbued with a sense of security like no-one else in the Premier League; even the possible outcome of relegation might be accepted as a heroic failure. This summer he was heavily linked with the vacant Liverpool post, the summer prior it was Aston Villa, and these rumours must surely have boosted his self-esteem further.

This is not to suggest that Martinez is too laid-back, nor that he’s content merely to put the hours in until a ‘proper’ job comes along. He spent six years playing for the club, and is now in his fourth as manager. He knows the team and enjoys a close relationship with the chairman, Dave Whelan. He also knows better than most what relegation would ultimately mean to Wigan. Unlike some of the aforementioned yo-yo clubs who maintain a dizzyingly bipolar existence, plotting the glory of promotion or a futile fight against relegation, with middle ground offering rare retreat, Martinez must suspect that Wigan would struggle to bounce straight back up if they were indeed to go down. The Premier League calendar will eventually find itself of a time when commentators and pundits alike talk of clubs ‘fighting for their lives’ at the foot of the table, but there is a perversely stabilising sense of literalism in Wigan’s case.

It is hard to imagine the chain of minimal achievement ever being broken, but there are two likely outcomes – either the club’s scarcely beating pulse will one day stabilise as the club surges further up the table into ruder health, or it will eventually flatline and finally succumb to the ever-present threat of relegation. To ponder on Wigan’s future in such a way is to miss the point. The fact that they are an established Premier League club – no matter how lowly – is a triumph in itself. This is their victory, and as such they are experiencing success of a kind, albeit in the least glamourous, least obviously rewarding way. Everyone wants to win in football, but there are only so many trophies to go round. On any given week, of all the matches taking place globally, no more than 50% of those teams will ever win. So when a team can find a way of succeeding on their own terms, of somehow stretching the fabric of the elite to create more space at the table, this should only be applauded.

In the wider context of the club’s history, you would expect that there is an appreciation among Whelan and Martinez that these are the best days of the club’s life, which are to be enjoyed, rather than to be spent living in fear. It is the equivalent of someone with a terminal illness, constantly staring mortality in the face, but stoically refusing to welcome the fear in favour of enjoying life will it still runs through them. Other stricken patients in the same ward will panic this year, just as they did last year (see Wolves and the firing of Mick McCarthy, or Blackburn Rovers and the non-firing of Steve Kean).

Meanwhile Wigan, led by Martinez and that inscrutable smile of his, will continue as always – untouched by mania, making the best of it all, and knowing when things are good.

The FA Attempt To Script ‘Such Drama’

After the excitement of the 2011-12 Premiership season, it has been said by the commentators of our age that you couldn’t script such drama. Fearing as much, FA chairman David Bernstein has taken drastic action to ensure that next season isn’t imbued with a feeling of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s wank’, and invited a selection of Hollywood luminaries to devise a season of football even more unpredictable than the last. Having gone through the appropriate bins to discover the treatments pitched, Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed can exclusively reveal what could be in store for fans next season.
Charlie Kaufman: The entire season unspools from the sole perspective of Swansea’s journeyman midfielder Leon Britton, who battles an existential crisis while trying to maintain his excellent pass completion ratio. Existential crises will be experienced by 98% of all Premiership players (everyone except the squad of Aston Villa), until the FA steps in to declare them illegal. At this point, all Premiership players (except Villa’s) will endure existential ‘uncrises’, which aren’t actually a thing but merely the figment of Paul Lambert’s imagination, who turns out to be Leon Britton’s estranged father. Crackpot screenwriter Kaufman will, as usual, explore trademark themes such as fear, self-doubt, alienation, Meaning and the futility of life, all through the motif of Liverpool’s new third kit. A comedy.
M Night Shyamalan: The season will be blighted by the non-interest of all, as people await only the last ten minutes of the season to see what the inevitable zany twist will be. Eventually, it will transpire that Shyamalan was actually dead all along, and so we can proceed to forget his career ever existed. Wayne Rooney finishes as top goalscorer.
Michael Bay : In lieu of a pitch, Bay simply provided this curious picture of Everton’s Leon Osman:

Who wouldn’t pay to see this?

Quentin Tarantino: The season starts with a scene from the end, because why not? We see very little in the way of football, with Hollywood’s enfant terrible preferring to dwell on rat-a-tat conversations between managers and their kitmen on such mundane topics as ointment and bread. I expect the proposed scene wherein Everton FC are shot to ribbons by a smart-talkin’ wise-ass nigga (played by Samuel L. Jackson, obviously) will draw heavy criticism, but could well fuel excited speculation come the Oscars.
Nick Love: To quote verbatim: “WALLOP! Banging in goals like lines of Charlie up my fuckin’ ‘ooter, that’s what I’m pitching, YOU TURLET!” Attached is a variety of headshots of Danny Dyer, wearing in turn a West Ham kit (lookin’ ‘ard), a West Ham away kit (lookin’ bovvered), a West Ham goalkeeper’s top (lookin’ for a ruck, you fuckin’ melt) and a referee’s shirt (grinning inscrutably – what’s he up to?).
Woody Allen: Sir Alex Ferguson troubles his therapist with his twin concerns – his attraction to his youthful new secretary, and his reluctance to sign an adequate holding midfielder. His therapist gives Ferguson the bizarre advice that he should pursue a romantic dalliance with the secretary, in the hope that he will be spurned, whilst simultaneously liberating the grizzled Scot sexually, for the therapist is actually in love with Ferguson herself. She is also young enough to be much, much younger than him. Eventually, Ferguson decides simply to buy a midfielder after all, and struggles as he falls in love with him instead. He reveals his struggle to come to terms with this newly discovered platonic love to his jealous therapist, who realises she loves her red-faced patient, despite the fact that it could never work between them. Nobody loves Woody Allen anymore.
Wes Anderson: Arsenal suffer an injury crisis at the same time that a prodigiously talented child prodigy begins to be all prodigious for the youth team, in a surprisingly prodigious way. Nine year old Kurt Schellinger deals with the pressures of elite youth football with a maturity far beyond his years, not least due to his passions for the oboe, Byzantine erotica, Kenyan literature, HAM radio, billiards, real ale, and other such implausible pursuits. Wenger, taken with this bizarrely confident and outgoing child-git, bonds with him over a shared love of 17th century agriculture and Belarussian performance art. Wenger decides to promote Schellinger to the first team, where he strikes up an unlikely kinship with Arsenal’s new centre-forward, Bill Murray. This unusual combination of youthful promise and subtly-expressed-yet-painful-yearning-drawn-on-a-ball bag lights up the season, although Arsenal still end up trophyless, as the squad fail to arrive for the FA Cup final as they all have parts in Kurt’s play, scheduled for the same day.  Bill Murray joins a bigger club at the end of the season.