Benitez, Mancini and Wenger: victims of the English game or their own egos?

Originally published for The False Nine on February 28 2013.

As he held the League Cup aloft in victory, shares in Michael Laudrup rattled up the ranks of the managerial stock exchange. His worth had already soared far beyond and above the valuations placed upon him in the summer, and come the close of business in May, it looks likely that Laudrup will have all but confirmed his place as one of the most attractive managerial investments around.

Swansea’s first major trophy in their 100 year history; Europa League entry for next season; exquisite football; the likelihood of an entirely respectable final position in the Premier League; and named as the man fans most want to takeover the reins at Real Madrid – it’s an impressive end-of-season growth report to reflect on for the Dane who co-founded a free-market think tank in his homeland in 2004.

In almost every possible manner, Laudrup has made the perfect first impression on English football. Charming, charismatic and handsome, there is something almost Mourinho-esque about how the league has fallen under his spell. In tabloid speak however, he is the jovial Scandinavian to the Special One’s fiery Portuguese. No wild pronouncements or headline grabbing antagonism, just calm, cool composure and sincerity. Both present comfortable identities that play up to familiar English stereotypes and folk heroes – after all, Mourinho is the much anticipated belated successor to Brian Clough. Continue reading

No Longer Prospects Without Positions: Jones and Wilshere Break old English Mould

Originally published for The False Nine on February 21 2013.

Phil Jones’ second season at Manchester United began muted by injury. The sight of him initially struggling to find form felt strangely and shamefully satisfying, and yet as he limped off on Monday night against Reading the only thoughts that one could conjure were those of loss and interruption.

A series of gut-busting displays last year flicked the switch on the Phil Jones hype machine, which quickly spiralled out of control. In no time at all, the versatile young defender was being touted as the nation’s latest elemental wonderkid and a future saviour and captain of England. It appeared amorphous potential and purely physical gifts had once again seduced pundits into holding faith in one of English football’s most dangerous and enduring myths: the cult of the individual hero.

Thanks to his gurning enthusiasm, Jones was soon praised from on high as the latest wild prodigy of England – a player of such capacity that his mere presence flies the face of the complicated and unnecessary intellectualism of tactics. Fortunately, it is Sir Alex Ferguson and not some blinkered Luddite who steers the young defender’s progress. Continue reading