Some coaches will remain in the Dark Ages. They will pore over ProZone spreadsheets and coloured graphs, tracking everything from interval sprints to metabolizable energy in the pre-match meal. They will grope through a fog of psychometrics and kinesiology. For others, however, perhaps this will prove the week when they finally understood the 21st century consummation of their science.
A first, defining moment of illumination came from Harry Redknapp last weekend. When he was asked what instructions he had given the interpreter before sending Roman Pavlyuchenko on against Liverpool the new Tottenham manager shrugged. "I said: 'Tell him to just f***ing run about'."
Pavlyuchenko, of course, went on to score an injury-time winner. Redknapp's Tottenham miracle has since been corroborated by a 4-0 evisceration of Dinamo Zagreb in the Uefa Cup. Remarkably, moreover, he is achieving all this without the middle man – something evidently beyond the competence of Daniele Zoratto.
Zoratto is manager of Modena, wedged at the bottom of Serie B. Exasperated by a series of controversial refereeing decisions, he has summoned a Benedictine monk to perform an exorcism in the home dressing room.
While Zoratto could not purge his team's demons himself, perhaps he had looked around the world and discerned that the modern manager's role was first suggested by Euripides: the deus ex machina. This is the dramatic device, also known as the crane, by which an improbable contrivance is used to resolve a seemingly intractable plot.
Sometimes it even comes off. That certainly seems the case at Tottenham, albeit their overnight transformation by Redknapp implies a previous dereliction of professionalism by several international players. Apart from being told to effing run about, it seems they simply wanted to feel loved.
Conversely, Fabio Capello is getting somewhere with England by showing his players that they were loved rather too well by his predecessor. Either way, it shows that managers are not always scapegoats. Demonstrably, there are times when a new magnetism in the dressing room can make all the difference. But that force is spread across a very hazardous spectrum. It begins, most wholesomely, with "strength of character" – words that have much in common, linguistically, with the "power of personality". How precariously, however, do these in turn relate to the "cult of celebrity"?
Redknapp and Capello are clearly effective at the right end of the spectrum. But there are times when the deus ex machina completes a dangerously literal process of deification. Those who know Martin Johnson have no doubt that the towering substance of his character will be reflected in his new charges at Twickenham today. It is difficult to be so sanguine, however, about Diego Maradona.
His appointment as Argentina's coach borrows the abiding, death-or-glory themes of his own life, the same addiction to fame and risk. For whatever his present state of mind, and body, he has always seemed to share the inexorably tragic impetus common to so many visionaries.
His godlike status in Argentina is barely figurative. There is even an Iglesia Maradoniana in Buenos Aires, with its own rites and liturgies. To its congregation of fanatics, 2008 is 48DD - " despues de Diego" (after Diego). The holy family Maradona now has its own Madonna, his daughter being pregnant by one of his footballing heirs in Sergio Aguero. The idolatry even has its own resurrection story, rumours of his death having swept the crowds outside the hospital where he lay in a coma, just four years ago, stricken by cocaine and gluttony. Good grief, even here he is known as the Hand of God.
This latest messianic role, however, surely threatens the myth that has somehow survived all the fleshly Maradonas we have seen since 1986, grotesque, swollen, doomed. His brief, awful record as a club manager is perhaps irrelevant. Not so, however, his chronic emotional fragility.
From his days as the shanty town prodigy, pumped up by quacks, his life has never really been his own. The binges, the rants, the paranoia – they all speak of a man too erratic, vain and lachrymose for his new calling. So controlled and expressive with the ball, he has proved naïve and capricious without.
With or without the ball, of course, he has always exceeded convention. And Argentina needs a man with the composure and adaptability to channel the surfeit of flair and unpredictability already available – on the pitch. As if in homage to his cult, Aguero, Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez are themselves all diminutive forwards, just an inch or two taller than Maradona's 5ft 5in. But no team can be made entirely in his image.
The players available to Maradona have such sublime quality that they could yet become agents of his redemption in 2010. But things could just as easily work out the other way round. Maradona has often swayed over his own abyss; now it is as if the entire nation has a reckless craving to sample his torments.
Addictions always disclose frailty of character. But Maradona's also fed on the self-deception of the superhero. Sycophants always made him feel invulnerable. Jorge Valdano, another World Cup winner in 1986, put it well. "Poor Diego," he said. "For so many years we have told him, 'You're a god', 'You're a saviour', but we forgot to tell him the most important thing: 'You're a man'."
Maradona must have authentic strength of character, to have defied all those brutal tackles, and now to achieve some kind of stability in his life. But it is celebrity alone, not personality, that qualified him for this latest apotheosis.
The deus ex machina, remember, is generally viewed as a sign of gross ineptitude in a dramatist. True, it is easy to share the frisson of awe among Manchester United players when he arrived at their training ground yesterday morning. But Maradona himself, towards the end of his career, had lucidly dismissed the notion of management. How could he tell others to do as he did when so many things he did could never be explained?
You might as well ask him how he scored that second goal againstEngland in 1986. There is not much you could expect him to say. Other than, perhaps: "I just effing ran about a bit."Hamilton's critics are both baffling and worrying
Apparently there are people who cannot warm to Lewis Hamilton. He is too bland. Or is he too swanky? No matter. One way or another, he is evidently too good to be true.
This is a perplexing view of a scrupulously modest, pleasant young man, a model of professional industry and personal restraint, who has essentially handled even bad times well enough. He also has self-belief and aggression, but confines these to scaring the living daylights out of other drivers.
Those gentlemen are entitled to regard Hamilton (below) with distaste, but only the most small-minded of his compatriots can be affronted by his way of life out of the cockpit – his flight from the taxman to Switzerland, for instance, or his picturesque, pop star girlfriend – and expect to escape a charge of petty jealousy, or worse.
Worse is not difficult to conceive, in a week that will be remembered for a more significant, more exhilarating affirmation that democracies really can sustain the dreams of their least privileged social and racial strata.
It is to our local, post-imperial perspectives that many have turned instead as they ponder these cheap and cheerless quibbles about Hamilton. They wonder if the British remain devoted to the heroic underdog, and mistrust the implicit hauteur of a winner.
Well, the hysterical hagiography that distorted British success in Beijing this summer should have put an end to that, once and for all. There must be another explanation. If there is, however, it seems unlikely to be any more flattering.Reuse content