A passionate plea for more passion in football

Elko Born considers the apparent need for more passion from certain football managers…

As someone who grew up outside of Britain, some of the convictions and norms of a lot of Premier League spectators simultaneously amuse and confuse me.

Take your average British fan’s tendency to automatically question the qualities of any footballer who has ever played in the Dutch Eredivisie. Because Afonso Alves was bad when he played for Middlesbrough, the reasoning seems to go, every former Eredivisie footballer ever will always fail in the Premier League.

Recently, some Manchester United fans have started taking offence to manager Louis van Gaal’s touchline antics, or lack thereof. If Twitter is to be believed, anyway.

Van Gaal needs to get off his arse, these critics make known. How can he expect to be a good manager when he’s sitting in the dugout all the time? He needs to go and stand near the touchline so he can effectively shout at the footballers. 

According to these critics, there apparently exists a rulebook for football managers. Written by the independent board of football manager critics, who convene every quarter in a secret location somewhere in England, or perhaps God himself – this rulebook maps out what a man like Louis van Gaal must do to be taken seriously. And by remaining seated during football matches, thus ignoring rule 1.3 of the codex, he is opening himself up to criticism.

Nonsense, of course. Luckily, there is no rulebook. Different managers behave in different ways. What is behind the apparent need for rampant pacing and gesturing at Old Trafford’s touchline is presumably the notion of ‘passion’ – a behavioural trait often talked about in the land of English football.

It’s difficult to tell what, exactly, people expect when they talk about ‘passion’. Perhaps it is believed that football managers can will their players to perform well. If the manager wants to win so badly that he can’t physically contain his nerves and excitement, then there is a bigger chance the players will perform well and the game will be won, the reasoning must go.

Conversely, if a manager is perfectly capable of containing infantile pantomimic movements, then it must mean that he doesn’t truly want his players to win the match for him, and we all know that if a manager doesn’t truly want to win, he’s not a good manager.

To much hilarity of spectators from outside, these ideas about ‘passion’ take up a primary role in the national debate about the England team every four years. In the eyes of many, England’s performances at the World Cup are directly relatable to their ability to appear as if they ‘want to win’. In some cases, when England are terrible and are eliminated after the first two group games, displayed enthusiasm can also function as some sort of a get-out-of-jail free card. ‘It’s all fine,’ people will say. ‘We were terrible but at least it looked like we wanted to win.’

In other areas of life, medals for spirit and enthusiasm are not awarded as easily. As was reported by The Guardian in 2013, almost half of recent graduates in the UK are in non-graduate jobs. Maybe it’s time to instate some kind of subsidy or benefits for people who have tried really hard by getting a degree but can’t find a job that suits their skill level and expertise?

Furthermore, let’s all vote for the politician who can jump the highest while delivering speeches, buy our bread from the baker who wakes up the earliest, and forgive murderers who acted out of passionate impulse. It’s the idea, and not the actual output in reality that counts, after all.

Before doing that, however, maybe it’s time to consider another mode of football management. One that is less inclined to surf on the currents of emotion, one that values reflection and contemplation without excluding passion and motivation.

Such behaviour, based on detachment and distance, would make it easier for a manager to objectively analyse reality and make rational decisions. It would allow someone like Van Gaal to look at a match with a clear head, to take in everything he sees and not let his thoughts be clouded in any way. Many great football managers have used such a technique in the past. From Rinus Michels to Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, relative tranquility and composure has often brought success.

Or maybe not. The great tradition of Stoicism might have inspired humanity for milennia, when it comes to Manchester United winning a football match, there ain’t nothing like a bit of good old fashioned passion.

@Elko_B; @The_False_Nine

Leave a reply