The Last Word: If game fully embraced corporate principles managers would get a bonus for relegation
Business and sport have discovered a fatuous glamour in one another
Well I shall miss him. I shall miss that compelling tension between his ennui and his passion, so that you never quite knew whether he wanted to punch his interviewer in the face, or if he had even identified the ugly bloke holding a microphone as the source of the voices in his head.
I shall miss the mystified look, the shrug when he stops staring into the distance and says: “Noh. I know this because this is football.” And I shall miss the substitutions that so reliably “baffled” commentators.
Along with Roberto Mancini, however, it seems the civilised football fan must also mourn the word “holistic”, which protruded from Manchester City’s official statement like a knife between his shoulder blades. I must confess I had not been aware, until then, that “holistic” had joined the list of words that blaringly announce intellectual dishonesty in business, politics and any other walk of life that conceals blame or rank stupidity beneath a veneer of Orwellian rigmarole.
With so much money sloshing around, the intrusion of business jargon is perhaps inevitable. Business and sport have discovered a fatuous glamour in one another. True, each still has much to learn. Sport can grow complacent in a literally captive market, trapped in a stadium by tribal loyalty. On the other hand, sacking Mancini – in business terms – is like Amazon or Google firing their tax advisers.
By the same token, football would hardly tolerate the institutional larcenies of capitalism. Borrowing corporate “principles”, managers would be rewarded for relegation with a lavish bonus, a 10-year contract extension and two new secretaries whose shared rota thoughtfully enables both to continue careers as lingerie models.
You would have thought the City had been finally exposed, once and for all, as a gigantic fraud. But that’s why the inherent deceit of its jargon is so significant. Anyone who says “going forward”, instead of “in future”, and “action” or “deliver” when he means “do”, might as well go round with a sandwich board declaring: “I am a thief.” If he steals meaning, why not money?
So nobody should be complacent. It is only a matter of time before a manager introduces a new signing by saying: “I am confident Andy’s defensive competencies can deliver exactly those aerial and physical solutions identified by our stakeholders as actionable targets going forward.”
True, that manager is unlikely to be Sam Allardyce. But that’s just where the blade in Mancini’s back becomes double-edged. For all the wholesome mockery invited by the word “holistic” has emboldened a reciprocal deception. Those who mistrust sophisticated young coaches, such as Villas-Boas, have been quick to group them with the “suits”. The inference is that proper football men – that is to say, blokes from Govan – would no sooner tolerate all that preppy Powerpoint analysis than corporate bull from the boardroom.
Certainly, it is hard to think of a more “reductionist” approach to the game than throwing a boot at David Beckham. But these critics insinuate some sick slickness even in the exotic Catalan names of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. And that, in turn, requires the isolation of precisely this dashing Italian dude, Mancini, from all the other agents of cosmopolitan contamination.
The irony is that any properly holistic approach would see beyond such hierarchical nuances. You want a holistic vision? Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the Portland Timbers. Last month the surprise success story of the MLS season did something that made it seem no surprise at all.
An eight-year-old fan, recuperating from cancer, asked the Make-A-Wish charity if his own team could play the Timbers. The club obliged him with a lavish simulacrum of an MLS match, from a locker room with named jerseys waiting on the pegs to single-file tunnel exit and the singing of the anthem. But what really completed the occasion was the presence, on a midweek midday, of no fewer than 3,000 Timbers fans, chanting and waving flags.
Fortunate as they are, to live in so favoured a city, these people plainly have an organic connection with their club. The fans’ association, for instance, organises clean-ups around the stadium in Goose Hollow. As the Timbers’ Army website reminded members before the latest “Spruce Up The Goose” morning: “We definitely contribute to the wear and tear on the neighbourhood and it is worthy of our stewardship. There’s a bit of work to do but we can do this with your help. Oh, and there are rumours of a ‘kegger’ after the event. Team. Town. TA. It’s time to tidy the yard.”
According to the jargon, Manchester City this week decided to “sunset” the Mancini project. It’s a classic of the new lexicon: a noun used as a verb and laden with specious positives. Business is supposed to see the bigger picture. Business should see that the season went wrong the moment City came out of the hat with Dortmund and Madrid. But business should also see that the Portland Timbers might be an even better model than Barcelona. And that could only be called a “game changer”.
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