The Weird Fetish for Managerial Antics on the Touchline

There is a frustrating fallacy doing the rounds once again. Managers who tether themselves to the touchline and engage in theatrical performances on the side-lines are better than those who do not. This is rubbish.

It’s not often we can use Joey Barton as an imparter of wisdom, but here, alas, is our chance. In January, Jose Mourinho appeared to irk Antonio Conte by calling him “a clown” for perceived melodrama on the touchline. Ever diplomatic, Barton – now manager of Fleetwood Town – supported Mourinho by calling the then Chelsea boss a “soft lad” and “petulant child” on TalkSport.

While these comments ere on the side of humour rather than cutting analysis, they did highlight the silly drama played out by some managers. Barton suggested that when Conte was unable to mask such visible signs of distress, it would do no good to his underconfident players. Imagine missing a sitter and seeing your coach emblazoned with rage and overwhelming anguish. It’s simply not conducive to confidence.

A lack of control

The Conte saga was just a symptom of a much larger debate; a conversation that had been fuelled by the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, who mimic Conte in their wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve style of coaching. Obviously, being animated does not mean you’re a bad manager, but it does suggest a lack of control. If you find yourself repeatedly barking instructions and sending fire and fury into your players for mistakes, it implies you haven’t got your message across. It gives the impression that all those hours on the training ground were a waste – and frankly, if you can’t translate your ideas in the quiet and calm of a secluded training pitch, why would you be able to in the frenetic whizz of a Premier League match?

Often, when a manager does not stalk the touchline with a nightmarish intensity, it is used as a stick to brandish them as lethargic and uncaring. More misleading, however, is when some cite it as evidence for a manager’s lack of tactical nous. The most obvious example comes in the form of Zinedine Zidane, who was normally just, well, still – confident in the knowledge that his ideas had been received.

The Frenchman led Los Blancos to three Champions Leagues but was derogatorily referred to as “lucky” and nothing more than someone who “claps their hands in encouragement”. His apparent nonchalance on the benches fed this ludicrous myth. Sir Alex Ferguson sometimes “lost his head”, most commonly seen barking at fourth officials, but rarely were his invectives targeted at his players; his antics on the side-lines were a yielding to the dark arts, being carefully constructed dramas designed to influence refereeing decisions.

Celebrations > Insouciance

All of this is not to chastise managers who show passion. Klopp’s celebrations at Liverpool have been refreshing and have fused a connection between team and fan. The German is completely immersed in his club’s culture and has become their new figure-head – this would not have happened had he not demonstrated such visible enthusiasm.

Manchester United fans would not hesitate to swap the brooding insouciance that Jose Mourinho projects for the love that Klopp furnishes Anfield with. But there is a very clear difference between showing passion in success and reflecting a loss of control.

Remember the World Cup? Well, do you remember the possessed-like pacing of embattled Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli? He cared, quite obviously, but his exaggerated performances did little to prevent Argentina’s inevitable exit from Russia.
Whipping yourself into a storm of instructions, derision and encouragement within your technical area does not make you a good coach. Sure, you can still be a good manager and do this, but animation does not naturally translate into good managerial qualities.

Football has a weird, unsubstantiated fetish for an absence of control, when really, there is no logic behind it.

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