Last weekend after his Manchester City side lost at Anfield, manager Manuel Pellegrini stayed on the touchline and shook hands with every Liverpool player. In the press interview afterwards he admitted there had been refereeing decisions which didn’t go in his team’s favour, adding “…but that wasn’t why we lost the game”.
Pellegrini has always come across as a fairly laid-back individual and also an honourable one. It seemed a breath of fresh air for him to lose such a high profile match, a potential title-decider, and take the defeat with such grace. But then Pellegrini has faced harsher treatment than Skytv’s chief destroyer, Geoff Shreeves. When he arrived at River Plate in Argentina, Pellegrini, a Chilean, faced a hostile press pack who referred to his engineering degree, by asking if he was there to finish the stadium. Pellegrini just laughed it all off and defused the situation beautifully.
Pellegrini has certainly been less confrontational than his predecessor, Roberto Mancini and less keen to blame outside influences for his team’s inconsistent form this season. The pressure on any manager at The Etihad is immense given the untold riches at their disposal, and the owners have shown they are not prepared to wait for a man to find his feet. But, unlike many managers in recent years, he has been reluctant to sling mud at his challengers when he has a vast array of quotes from previous managers to refer to.
Another honourable man who has come to the fore this season is Roberto Martinez at Everton. After winning the FA Cup with Wigan last season, it was inevitable he was going to be approached by another Premier League club after their relegation. Everton came calling after losing their previous incumbent, David Moyes, to Manchester United. Martinez has impressed many with his tactics and management of his squad. He too has resisted any attempt to pour scorn on rival managers, preferring to concentrate on his own team.
This week Martinez gave a speech to almost 25,000 people attending Anfield for the Hillsborough 25th anniversary service, and gave further evidence of his honour, compassion and dignity. Despite taking notes with him, he read unaided and delivered a speech full of empathy, understanding and good will. He met the mood completely. He was followed by Brendan Rodgers, who was given a welcome so warm and normally reserved for some of his predecessors. Rodgers too spoke with great humility and warmth, leaving one in no doubt of his pride with his current post. Both men have very quickly understood the unique relationship between Liverpool and Everton and caught the mood beautifully.
It struck me at the time how different these two were from managers the Premier League has endured in recent years. When you add in Pellegrini’s conduct this season it would appear we may be entering a new era. Perhaps an end to the punch & judy management techniques of past managers over the last 10 years.
To this end, Jose Mourinho has seemed a bit dated this season. During his second coming at Stamford Bridge, Jose has attempted to adopt many of the techniques and strategies which had coloured his first spell which ended in 2007. But these have seemed dated at best, and crass in the extreme. We’ve become bored of this type of behaviour and the contrast with the likes of Rodgers, Martinez and Pellegrini, the difference has appeared stark. Mourinho, unable to admit defeat or even congratulate a conqueror, he had to resort to an unprovoked attack on poor old Arsene Wenger. It was the equivalent of a loudmouth entering a pub and given a tirade to the poor old bloke in the corner who’d been minding his own business. The attack was ill-conceived, poorly delivered and as welcome as a pork chop at a Jewish wedding.
Mourinho’s tricks have appeared boorish and possibly the football management equivalent of Jim Davidson standing up today and doing a routine from the 1980’s. We’ve moved on, we don’t find those things funny anymore and are looking for better entertainment. The press have been lapping it up, though, but even certain sections are beginning to question whether this is healthy or not.
Are we coming to the end of the mind games synonymous with Alex Ferguson, who trademarked the idea which the press endorsed and encouraged. When Mourinho joined Chelsea in 2004, he enjoyed locking horns with Fergie and also Rafa Benitez at Liverpool. Barely a week would go by when one of them wasn’t casting stones at other managers around in an attempt to get any sort of advantage over them.
But this season has seen little of this and managers seem to prefer to let their teams do the talking. With many managers losing their jobs this season perhaps their peers have been reluctant to put the boot in for fear of the target becoming unemployed a week later. Managers still blame referees, though, and Rodgers was guilty of bringing into focus the referee for Liverpool’s post-Christmas trip to City was from the Greater Manchester area. In general, few have resorted to the ‘below-the-belt’ digs at rivals hoping to gain a psychological advantage. Perhaps in this regard we can still label Mourinho as ‘the special one’.