Have you ever wondered how the Premier League can get away with insisting each manager give a post match interview when they know one of them is almost certainly going to be pissed off? I used to think it oddly hypocritical to force a dicked-off Jose to talk to camera and then punish him for being candid. Surely, if he warrants a fine, a better punishment would be a ban from speaking in the first place. But then, of course, you wouldn’t have the entertainment, which is what the Premier League prides itself on. So if you think about it, the Premier League isn’t being hypocritical at all: they’re just making telly.
So Chelsea lose, Jose has a rant and everyone gets worked up. He’s a bad influence, a sore loser, a poor sport. And once again, I find myself coming to his defence on the grounds of entertainment. He’s fun, he’s provocative, he’s the spice in a Jalfrezi: take it out and you’re left with stew. But I wonder, am I being blinded by affiliation? Would I be on the other side of the fence were I to support another team, or were another team to have an agent provocateur as manager? Well, I don’t know. I don’t dislike Van Gaal, or Wenger, or Poch, or Pellegrini. In fact I don’t really have any emotional response toward them at all. They could be swapped around, Brendan Rodgers style, and I wouldn’t even notice. They’re all harmless bystanders to the world of football. Some are better managers than others, but as personalities, they’re pretty much interchangeable. Would we notice any difference if Martinez were to take over from Wenger? Would we care? I mean sure, Wenger’s been around a long time, and he’s achieved some great things, but even with all of Jose’s prompting and tee ups, Wenger staunchly refuses to join the Punch and Judy show and quietly carries on with his job of getting knocked out of the Champions League early.
Fergy, now he knew the score. He wound you up, he poked you with a pointy stick. You couldn’t wait for United to lose because you knew you were going to get a free episode of the Fergy show in the next day’s papers. And yet for all the frustration he brought, there’s something lacking now that he’s gone. The Premier League needs big personalities, it needs heroes and villains. And of course, in the long run, it’s these heroes and villains who win. They’re the ones who push the boundaries, who play on the edge and test what’s acceptable. They’re the ones who force progress. Diego Costa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Manuel Neuer. These guys keep forcing us to rethink the status quo.
The Rugby World Cup has highlighted this attitude. The Japanese threw caution to the wind to beat South Africa, and were heroes, the English used the same kamikaze tactic and were villains. When it came to the crunch, Scotland lacked killer instinct, whereas Argentina lacked sang-froid. And now the finalists are quite literally lauded as heroes at home and cheats across the Cook Strait. If you’re Australian, Richie McCaw is a cheat, if you’re Kiwi, then it’s David Pocock. No surprise that they’re both openside flankers, always digging in at the breakdown, turning over the ball, always right on the edge of what’s legal. Like diving in football, it’s up to you whether you want to see it as cheating or as intelligent. Half the time it’s a matter of interpretation, and so getting inside the referee’s head can make the difference between winning and losing. In the end, one man’s villain will always be another man’s hero: in sport, it’s impossible to separate the two. So let the ranters rant: they’re only harmonising our own pro-Jose chants, and besides, they’ve only got an opinion because their lot is so dull.
But let’s not lose sight of the longer term. Sure, this season’s not working out, but that will happen from time to time. As we saw last season, it’s not difficult to win the league, you just need loads of money. If you have cash, you have subs, and if you have subs you can win the league. It’s less easy to win the Champions League, where one mistake means you’re toast. Money helps, of course, but one freak result, a dodgy decision, an untimely slip, and suddenly you’re watching way more Netflix on weeknights. I trust Jose to get us back on track, it just seems he’s putting a whole lot of eggs in that Champions League basket …
(And for what it’s worth, here’s to a Kiwi victory. I mean, sure, Richie McCaw’s a cheat, but we can’t have those stink-ass Aussies winning the World Cup over here, can we?)