For a time last autumn, the place Phil Brown calls his "war-room" at Hull City's training ground looked like the inspired creation of an individual building on the benefits of a siege mentality. Yesterday, he sounded like a man under siege. Did he wish he did not wear quite so much heart on his sleeve? "No, no, far from it. It's just me," he replied. But he sounded close to tears. Being at war with the world has started to throw up its shortcomings for the self-styled commander in chief.
The tan and the shiny shirts and the unconscionably large earpiece had a slightly charming eccentricity as Hull ran up the Premier League and became everyone's second team – and while Brown was becoming the antidote to homogenised top-flight information management. His weekly briefings at Hull's unprepossessing Millhouse Woods Lane training ground were – are – wondrous, Brown wandering among the cameras before sitting down for some good football talk with the newspapers. But ubiquity has its shortcomings. Brown seemed a little too available yesterday when he showed on BBC Five Live's morning news magazine (he summarises for the radio station) and promptly went to war again. "Are you questioning my integrity?" he asked, defensively, when Cesc Fabregas' denials were put to him.
That response contributed to a sense that Brown is a man who always has to be right. It is not hard to find instances of this from Brown's days at Bolton, with one of Sam Allardyce's former staff pointing to the same character trait. That ex-Reebok man was relating that detail in late December when, after Hull were 4-0 down at half-time at Manchester City, Brown had led his players to a half-time team-talk on the pitch in front of their fans.
The Eastlands act raised eyebrows. Dean Windass, dropped after the 5-1 defeat and never recalled before going on loan to Oldham, left little of what the players felt that day to the imagination, even though Brown's side showed much more resolve in the 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa a few days later. "It left all of us stunned and the journey back was an uncomfortable and quiet one, and not just because of the thrashing," Windass said.
Brown's next public explosion came after Geovanni had questioned the decision to substitute him, during the 2-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers, earlier this month, prompting Brown's assertion that he hoped he "failed his drugs test". It was an unfortunate choice of words – and intemperate considering Brown did not consider the offence serious enough to fine the Brazilian.
Football is full of individuals in management who offer much the same but Brown now runs the risk of overshadowing all that he has achieved. When Sheffield United performed with huge valour against Liverpool in the Worthington Cup semi-final six years back, the story became about manager Neil Warnock and his claims that Liverpool's Stéphane Henchoz had spat at him. Brown has done much the same after a quarter-final achievement at the Emirates which revealed so much about Hull's qualities. A more unobtrusive approach to the game can reap surprising rewards, too. Wigan's Steve Bruce, for one, has received plenty of players from Arsène Wenger.
Never has an air of calm been needed more in east Yorkshire. Though Hull's 3-0 win at West Bromwich in late October took them to third, the slide to their current position four points above the relegation zone has contributed to a feeling of crisis, Brown was not helped by the long-term knee injury to Jimmy Bullard and the £5million gamble to sign him in January which has backfired.
Yesterday, the Hull manager sounded like an individual reaching for any available ammunition. Fabregas' offences, he declared, included "being on the pitch... dressed in the manner he which he was dressed." Brown evidently did not see the irony in going on national radio to say that "I'm not one for crying over spilt milk... [and I'm not one to] tittle-tattle to the FA." Agreeing to the interview was certainly a bad idea: Brown was almost overwhelmed when asked who else had witnessed what he saw in that tunnel. "Great question. How am I supposed to answer that one?" he said.
Brown told The Independent back in November that he fancied trying out the book Moneyball, Michael Lewis' bestseller about the extraordinary overachievement of baseball's Oakland Athletics. The moral of that story is that modest sides can win. But its' secret is that rounded, objective analysis is a prerequisite. Time for Brown to start reading.
Hull's own David Brent
Phil Brown has treated the Premier League to a number of "David Brentisms" since the Tigers' top-flight arrival last year:
* "We've been sucked into the pretty Premier League. We are not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, we are ugly Hull. If you don't bring your ugly head to the table then Manchester City will play some football against you." December 2008
* "He will never do that to me again, I'm the manager. I haven't spoken to him yet. He's getting drugs-tested so hopefully they will find that positive. Geovanni is not bigger than this football club. It's as simple as that." March 2009
* "As far as I am concerned, bring your fighting talk to the table at three o'clock and we'll get it on. They need the three points, we don't necessarily need three. One will do us." March 2009Reuse content