Let's grow up, and stop treating our managers like children
21:44 GMT, 16 October 2012
There is a modern phenomenon called helicopter parenting. Helicopters hover over their offspring, involved in all elements of the child’s life.
Homework, friends, school activities, the car waiting outside the party just before 10: a helicopter parent is always ready to swoop down and take control.
And David Bernstein of the Football Association is a hover chairman. In Poland on Monday he sat at the back of Roy Hodgson’s press conference, as he often does, listening. This was a nice formal room but he has stood in sweltering, crowded corridors in Donetsk to lend an ear, too.
Right-hand man: David Bernstein has been a regular fixture alongside Roy Hodgson recently
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He says he means nothing by it. He is bored in his hotel existence on England away trips; he finds it interesting to hear the manager speak. Really, what harm can it do
Plenty. Up to now, Hodgson has been a winning England manager. A drawing one, at least. Yet suppose that changes. This is a long contract; there is plenty of time for things to go wrong. Suppose there is a moment when Hodgson is not doing so well, when the results are poor and his team is losing its way
Suddenly, the mood changes. The questions are more aggressive and challenging, the tone is full of doubt. Where will Bernstein stand then
We have seen it before. Graham Taylor in Rotterdam on the brink of exiting the World Cup, Steve McClaren in Amsterdam having taken a single point from matches with Macedonia and Croatia, Glenn Hoddle in the aftermath of losing to Sweden and the publication of his World Cup diaries, Sven Goran Eriksson following defeat in Belfast, Fabio Capello at the end of the 2010 World Cup: in these times, to have your boss sat at the back of the room would be excruciating and undermining.
The FA chairman sat next to you when the flak is flying is supportive; hovering on the fringes, not so much.
What if Bernstein stops coming when times are tough That then looks as if he is distancing himself from the manager, as if he wanted the credibility of association when the vibe was positive, but not if it sours.
Either way, to have your boss listening in does not feel right. In Warsaw, it was not as if Bernstein made a worthwhile contribution. When the new Code of Conduct was raised, he did not step in: he was merely a silent witness.
Chelsea executives do this, too, and it invariably contributes to an air of negativity and suspicion that hangs around the club and, particularly, their managers.
Lingering with intent: Bruce Buck (left) and Ron Gourlay (right) were present at the majority of Roberto di Matteo's press conferences during Chelsea stunning run to the Champions League final 2012
Bruce Buck, Chelsea’s chairman, is a respected figure in football and an engaging man, but to see him standing at the back of Roberto Di Matteo’s press conferences in the Champions League last season, invariably beside chief executive Ron Gourlay, contributed to the feeling that the club were checking up on their caretaker manager.
Maybe Buck, like Bernstein, is bored with business hotel life. Well, do something about it. Walk around town, read a book, go to the gym, play Angry Birds, learn a language, watch a film, just treat the manager like a grown-up and allow him to speak unsupervised. Particularly if, like Hodgson, he’s 65, on his 21st job in football and hardly in need of a minder.
Yet this is the modern way. Appoint an adult, treat him like a kid.
The FA were in a fearful flap on Monday over Gary Neville’s comments about Wayne Rooney. This, bullet points only, is what he said: ‘We need to see Rooney improve, Rooney needs to see himself improve … he has got a huge challenge just to maintain his position at Manchester United.’
The headline the FA did not want appearing was ‘Rooney must improve, says Neville’, which is a pity as this was pretty much his opinion.
And what is wrong with that The wider point Neville was making was that with players like Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa arriving at Old Trafford, Rooney has to step up to keep pace.
This is true of any footballer, of any person serious about his career. Everybody needs to improve. The alternative is to stand still and watch the competition fly past. Neville’s observation was a home truth, but so sanitised is the language of football that even the gentlest admonishment is considered unpalatable.
Friendly advise: Gary Neville dared to venture a bit of constructive criticism of Wayne Rooney
Yet we have had close to a decade of building Rooney up as the white Pele and where has it got us Gareth Southgate recently expressed his fear that Rooney may be one of a small band of players who achieve their full potential early.
'Some peak young and their best years come sooner than others,’ he said. ‘We won’t know if that’s the case with Wayne until he’s 28 or 30.’
What is certainly true is that had Rooney maintained the trajectory from his first tournament, the 2004 European Championship, he would be alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo now. That is the player Neville no doubt hopes to see. So he is right, Rooney needs to improve.
And the FA need to calm down.
One of the reasons Neville has won so many friends with his appearances on Sky television is his straight- forward manner. He is no gratuitous controversialist, but nor does he sugar-coat his commentaries to please the subject. Why strip him of the honesty that is his great strength
Having won 85 caps for England, eight Premier League titles and the Champions League, Neville probably feels entitled to his opinion, too. He is a big boy, and gave a big interview to the BBC. To have the FA swoop later and attempt to censor or mould his words is demeaning.
Just as one of the secrets of great goalkeeping is to accept the odd quiet game without feeling the need to rush around reminding the manager you are playing, so a coherent administration does not always have to be micro-managing every interview or chapter in the narrative.
The owner of Queens Park Rangers, Tony Fernandes, is on Twitter, for instance. That is not helpful.
Make yourself at home: QPR owner Tony Fernandes is very quick to turn to Twitter to discuss club issues
In the past, Fernandes has intelligently used social media to promote his businesses and he would no doubt argue that he is doing the same with Rangers, who might otherwise be swallowed whole by the elite of the Premier League.
Yet after a poor start to the season, what it has meant is that Fernandes has spent an inordinate amount of time standing by his manager, Mark Hughes.
Going into the international break bottom of the league is awkward, yet having announced after the defeat at West Bromwich Albion that he was backing Hughes, Fernandes has subsequently issued several bulletins repeating this fact.
The last was particularly bizarre. ‘The team is playing well,’ insisted Fernandes (although with two points from seven matches and a goal difference of minus 10, heaven forbid what would happen if they started playing badly).
Yet why does Fernandes feel the need to offer daily endorsement at all Might it be that his Twitter account has become a receptacle for the fears and frustrations of Rangers fans, and Fernandes feels under siege He said his piece on the day of the West Brom defeat, why keep returning to the subject At any failing club there will always be a percentage wanting the manager out; with a chairman on Twitter, however, the disgruntled have a direct line.
For Fernandes it will seem like the world is on his case, not just a hundred impatient souls.
Feeling the heat: Mark Hughes
Before last season’s Champions League second leg between Barcelona and Chelsea, Pep Guardiola became very defensive in a press conference when asked about his decision to play the inexperienced forward Christian Tello against Real Madrid, a match Barcelona lost at home. His comment, as translated into English through headphones by UEFA’s Spanish interpreter, was that Tello had played ‘a f****** good game’.
From the normally placid, urbane Guardiola, this was taken as indication that he was feeling the pressure.
Yet when the reports were published online, several members of the public who had watched the press conference live through television news outlets, and spoke Spanish, claimed that Guardiola’s phrase was milder than reported. They did not know the F-word version was actually the official UEFA translation, not journalistic mischief.
There followed a little Twitter spat in which some reporters were accused of making up quotes. I was with one of the guys whose integrity was being doubted. He was upset. Not being familiar with the medium I asked how many were accusing. It wasn’t in double figures.
The point is this: to him, at that time, even five people disputing his word on Twitter made it seem as if the whole world was disparaging him.
Now imagine Fernandes dealing with a few hundred calls to sack Hughes after a bad result. It will seem as if all of Loftus Road is of the same mind.
At some point, the clamour becomes hard to resist. For now, Fernandes is staying loyal to Hughes, but if results do not improve, unless Fernandes is exceptionally stubborn and strong-minded, he will not be able to withstand the onslaught every week. Something has to give: either his Twitter account or his trigger finger.
There was no golden age of football club ownership, says Premier League chief Richard Scudamore, whenever the role of modern proprietors is challenged, and he is right.
There was a time, though, when chairmen had better things to do than tweet or hang around at press conferences.
In Bernstein’s case, why does he even need to be in Warsaw with the team for 48 hours If he gets bored easily, come later, come on the day of the game for all the difference it would make. Just don’t earwig the manager when he is talking. He can get enough of that on the train.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
Touch of class
Carl Jenkinson is one of the most improved players in the Premier League. Early last season he looked an over- promoted kid, hurriedly rushed into the Arsenal ranks, and out of his depth. Now, the promise Arsene Wenger saw in him is apparent. Roy Hodgson called him up to train with England at the weekend.
Jenkinson’s international status is something of a mish-mash. He played for England as an Under 17 but, through his mother, also represented Finland at Under 19 and Under 21 levels.
He could still play for England as a senior but it would take about a month to extricate him from Finland’s books. Hodgson gave Jenkinson the choice.
‘I told him I didn’t want to trick him into playing for England for just a few minutes in order to block him for Finland,’ Hodgson said. ‘I let him know that we’re very interested in him, even if it is going to be tougher getting into the England team than the Finland team.
'Luckily, he didn’t need much convincing.'
No surprise there. At moments like that, Hodgson’s innate decency shines through. In a sporting climate that can seem quite poisonous, its worth should never be undervalued.
Right way: Roy Hodgson's approach to Carl Jenkinson over his England future showed class
Elliot makes step forward
Paul Elliot may become the first black chairman in British football.
Charlton Athletic joint-owner Michael Slater is considering standing aside for Elliott, who made 63 appearances for the club between 1980 and 1983. This would be a significant step forward in football’s evolution.
It is a mystery why more clubs do not have serious football people in prominent roles. Sir Bobby Charlton is a better ambassador for Manchester United than any businessman could be.
Indeed, as Manchester City increasingly utilise Patrick Vieira as their public face, and Clarke Carlisle becomes an increasingly impressive chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, it is easy to see how quickly the landscape of English football could change without recourse to quotas or shallow box ticking.
It just needs a few clubs with the imagination of Slater’s Charlton.
Eyes wide shut
Audley Harrison says he did not see the David Price punch that did for him after 82 seconds on Saturday. Well, it is hard to, with your eyes closed.