Eduardo Galeano was scathing about football managers. The great Uruguayan writer is a fan of improvisation, thinking that tactics and discipline are a pox on the natural rhythm and flow of the beautiful game. He must hate Jose Mourinho, and his beautiful football writings reflect this. He was always more Charlie Parker than AC/DC. His sentences flourish like a Diego Maradona drop of the shoulder, and that’s why he is the greatest.
Hunter S. Thompson always used to go to the Old Testament when he needed to get a piece written quickly (fire and brimstone was his idiom, after all), whereas, in a fix, the football writer goes to Galeano. But, for every Maradona there is always a Terry Fenwick just there to elbow him in the face. An Andoni Goikoetxea to cut him in two. I am Terry Fenwick, and I claim my €5.
Galeano’s mistrust of the post-professional manager is summed up thusly:
“The trainer used to say: ‘Let’s play.’”
“The manager says: ‘Let’s go to work.’”
He is not alone. Last year was a bad one for the romantics and aesthetes. Mourinho’s Inter won the Champions league with a style that gives pragmatism a bad name, and Bert Van Marwijk’s Holland came within a whisker of winning the world cup with a display of thuggery that would make Norman “bite yer legs” Hunter wince. The system had trumped flair.
And if the system is bigger than the players, the fear too is that the manager can become too powerful. Headlines all summer in Berlin wondered if 1.FC Union had become 1.FC Neuhaus. The gaffer had assumed too much control, was the inference, and was heading down the street marked “Richtung Felix Magath: Einbahnstraße”. This is, of course, mostly nonsense. Ask a Manchester United fan if Alex Ferguson has got too much power, and see what answer you get.
But I digress – with the kick off on Sunday of the Women’s World Cup, Berlin’s Olympic Stadium will be hosting two managers whose roots go down into their respective country’s games deeper than Augustus Gloop’s tapeworm. We know about Silvia Neid. One of Germany’s greatest ever players, she is an omnipotent presence in the women’s game over here.
But in the opposite dugout will be Canada’s Carolina Morace who recently prompted her side to threaten to go on strike if she didn’t get her way. She manages the under-twenties and the full internationals, and has dragged them up to sixth in the world rankings – a level unprecedented in a country where a city can be ransacked because of a loss in the Stanley cup, but whose general comprehension of football is akin to that of the average Labrador’s knowledge of Tolstoy. Morace demanded that the women’s game got the support from the CSA (the national association) that she thought necessary, and as Canada won the right to host the 2015 World Cup they didn’t have much choice in the end other than to back her all the way.
Morace is a proper football manager, and as such she is the only woman ever to have led out a professional men’s team, when she took charge of Viterbese (England’s Hope Powell was rumoured to be close to joining Grimsby, but opted to stay as the national boss where she easily wields as much weight as Neid and Morace). It ended in the sadly inevitable acrimony after only three months, but she is now untouchable in Canada, where her stand won the funding for the team to have spent practically the last four months back in Italy preparing.
The Canadian Women’s team now receive more financial support than their male counterparts. Needless to say this rankles with some.
“The women’s support staff is much larger than any other CSA team – Morace still travels with two translators. She’s been here for two years. Why does she still need two translators? – I’m not sure what they want if they think that’s too little” an unnamed source told the writer Duane Rollins among a litany of whining, but her players love her. “I could talk for days about her” midfielder Carmelina Moscato told Canadian journalist Lori Ewing. “She demands the best from us every day. She is emotional, she is passionate, she is an expert … she is by far the best coach we’ve ever had.” This was backed up by Captain Christine Sinclair: “I truly enjoy playing the way she has us playing. I’m the type of player that wants to get it, give it, get it back, little touches, little passes, the little combinations that she’s tried to teach us.”
So having won the power struggle Morace now needs to win the World Cup to keep the vultures from circling. It’s a tough job being a manager, because you can never keep everybody happy. As Galeano said: “The genius of Einstein and the subtlety of Freud isn’t enough for the fans. They want a miracle worker like the virgin of Lourdes, with the stamina of Gandhi.”
I’m looking forward to this World Cup; the malaise of the summer has found its foe.