Robin Scott-Elliot: How Rodgers has rewritten the rules of office politics
The Last Word: Ferguson’s office is available as a jigsaw in 300 pieces. Rodgers’ could be done in four
Saturday 21 January 2012
What does the size of a man's office say about the man? Sir Alex Ferguson's set-up at Carrington is big enough, according to Gary Neville, to accommodate the entire Manchester United first team while still leaving room to engage in a full-blown bout of the verbals with Roy Keane. The club may not have been big enough for the two egos but Fergie's office was.
From the office, large windows offer a view over the training pitches, which conjures images of the great man keeping an eye on his charges in the manner of John Cleese at his headmasterly best in Clockwise. "Stop slouching, Luis Nani, I've got my eye on you." "Oi, you, Rooney, stub that cigarette out. Report to Mr Phelan for detention."
Ferguson's office is available as a jigsaw (a present for the puzzled United fan). It comes in 300 pieces. The equivalent for Swansea's manager could be done in no more than four pieces – Brendan Rodgers' office is so compact he couldn't even swing Leon Britton in it. If there was a formula whereby a manager received a couple of square metres of office space per trophy won, then that would seem to be about right, but as a theory it falls down when Mark Hughes is introduced into the equation.
Hughes, still to get his managerial trophy collection off the mark, apparently likes a large one. When he arrived at Fulham he had his office extended, as well as ordering new furniture. The football world awaits news of what he will do with Neil Warnock's former premises, described by an impeccable Last Word source as "sizeable but basic". Warnock only had a TV installed this season, following the club's promotion.
Hughes earned a reputation as a young manager of promise during his spell in charge of Wales, and Rodgers is currently doing something similar in the Principality at Swansea. There are, though, ample differences between the two. For a start, there is a decade between them and an even greater separation when it comes to footballing achievement. Hughes scored goals for Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, and won roomfuls of honours en route. Rodgers had to retire at 20, without playing a senior game.
And then there's office politics. When Rodgers arrived at Swansea there was no manager's office. He had a desk beneath a staircase in a leisure centre outside Neath, where the club trained. They have built a wall now so from the outside it looks like the cupboard where the Hoover is stored. It has at least meant that the noise from the crèche across the hall is reduced.
"Quirky" is how Rodgers describes the set-up, but facilities that might seem so alien to Hughes – the players sit in the bar area to have their lunch, among the other users of the centre – have not prevented the urbane Northern Irishman from making a substantial claim as manager of (half) the season.
Sunday's victory over Arsenal will have a substantial claim to make as the match of the season, full stop. While Arsène Wenger is increasingly coming to resemble one of those wrestling camels who have been in action in Turkey this week, in permanently having the hump, Rodgers coolly looked every inch the coming man.
This afternoon Swansea are at Sunderland, having made one of the Premier League's longest journeys to face another stern test of his nous, this time against the top flight's other Northern Irish manager. Martin O'Neill is the arch-managerial pragmatist and it will be a fascinating tactical contest.
Hughes will be in his new dugout this afternoon as QPR take on Wigan in a game that may have a telling bearing on the relegation battle. There have been suggestions that Hughes had previously seen himself as being better than having to get involved in such a bare-knuckle basement encounter. But there is only so long a manager can spend out of the game before the game starts to pass him by.
The emergence of the likes of Rodgers, a pass master in the making, and Paul Lambert at Norwich can only have served to heighten Hughes' urgent need to get back behind a desk, whatever its size and surroundings.
You can't take the ... mickey out of Robertson
There is an episode of The Thick of It, the BBC's impeccably profane political comedy, when a minister launches the by-election campaign for a colleague called Liam Bent. She unveils the candidate's poster and then poses for photographs as her advisers realise, to their horror, that she is blocking the L in his name. There she stands in front of the letters IAM BENT. It was not a mistake that Hugh Robertson's advisers were going to let happen when they made damn sure the Olympics Minister wasn't caught short at the launch of London 2012's anti-doping laboratory, which will handle thousands of bottles of urine come the Games. Test tubes remained untouched and headline writers disappointed.
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