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Friday, 30 November 2012

If It Looks Like A Duck And Quacks Like A Duck, It's Probably A Philosophy

Nietzsche watching Macclesfield Town

It’s no secret, when you’re in the market for a new manager (as most clubs seem to find themselves at some point over a 12-month cycle) that certain employees come complete with stereotype and style. Or, as it’s sometimes more politely put, identity. OR, as it tends to be put when owners want to convince fans of shit teams that things can only get better, a ‘philosophy’.

At this point managers stop being employed to win football matches and become philosophy implementers. Philosophy implementers are basically an excuse for shit results, not winning matches and no trophies because hey, at least we aren’t spending money we don’t have like all those (two other) teams winning lots of pots. What’s their philosophy? Hmm?*

While we might have Pep Guardiola to thank for the overt (and seemingly constant) philosophical football identity quest, most managers have a certain kind of attachment to a certain kind of football. Guardiola’s, were his philosophy to become dæmons to carry around a la Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – albeit in accessory form – is akin to an arty, smart little man bag he’s had for years. It's really light, and it’s gorgeous, too. Jose Mourinho’s is like a reinforced titanium briefcase with all the latest fancy gadgetry and a handle with a hidden blade that will chop off your fingers if you enter the wrong (fiendishly difficult) code on the lock. If you can find the lock. Or the briefcase. It’s an invisible briefcase?.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s is a knarled old box with two handles out wide and one diamond stuck on the front to make it look a bit more current. A bit like the one that makes its appearance once a year on Budget day. Old fashioned maybe, but still vitally important. Roberto Mancini’s is an overflowing tray of really expensive crockery that keeps falling off one bit at a time. Arsene Wenger’s looks nice – always has – but is made of paper. No one knows what Rafael Benitez’s is because it’s 18,000 bullet points long. Sam Allardyce lugs his around in a sack with some root vegetables, predominantly very sturdy onions. Tony Pulis has to drive his around by tractor and most people fucking hate it.

Brendan Rodgers’ might be a chocolate teapot.

Managers can become too wedded to a certain philosophy, particularly if the reason they were employed was specifically to implement it. When has that ever gone well? Certainly not for Rodgers, results wise. And does anyone remember Owen Coyle’s ‘passing football’ at Bolton? Because we don’t. And we loved Stuart Holden. Loved him. Where is he?**

The question here is when does this start becoming an issue? How long does a philosophy take and can it ever actually be delivered without tens of years of back story and a group of players who happen to get it? Was Guardiola – and to an extent is Tito Vilanova, who fielded 11 La Masia graduates on the same field for the first time recently – incredibly lucky?

Rodgers has had no such luck with the players available to him, but has persisted with attempting to force his philosophy on them regardless. At what point does it become time to climb down off the moral high horse*** and go and sit in your office and work out how to beat Young Boys at home. Without relying on a single striker and a 17-year old to provide almost all your creativity.

The jury here at Magic Spongers is out on whether or not Rodgers is a good manager or not, given how much we loved and still love watching Swansea last season and this. And again, think back to Roberto Martinez for the seeds of a philosophy being sown at the Liberty Stadium some six years ago. But it appears that he – and he will be neither first nor last – finds himself on a bit of a hiding to nothing by righteously pursuing an idealised form of football that the players appear to have neither the ability or camaraderie (anticipating the Swansea argument here) to execute. At what point then, does the flexibility to adapt become a greater virtue than the incessant conviction (or arrogance?) in your own belief.

Everyone loves – and most advocate – great football, but not all managers appear to be pragmatic enough to first recognise, and then react to the fact that sometimes you should just keep Andy Carroll for just the occasion when you need to bully some centre backs for a bit. Liverpool are regressing because Rodgers is stubbornly wedded to his philosophy without the resources to realise it.

*NB: Their philosophy is ‘winning’.
** He’s injured, WE KNOW
*** We know that’s not a thing, CHILL OUT

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