When did English football stop being about footballers?

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

The FA Cup final is one of the biggest moments in the football calendar and Man United’s game with Crystal Palace, going to extra time and featuring a stunning goal from talented young Englishman Jesse Lingard, was a thriller. Surely a recipe to steal the headlines? Yet somehow, all the conversation post game hasn’t focused on the match or the players, but on the middle-aged men in suits that prowl the side-lines. The FA-Cup was a prime example; English football has become a manager’s game.

Before everything that happened after the final whistle, the FA Cup Final might have been most notable for the unbelievable show put on by palace manager Alan Pardew. After his side took the lead, Pardew burst into a frankly astonishing dance routine that was ill-timed, inappropriate and left him looking ridiculous when United scored twice to condemn Palace to final defeat. He’s not the first manager to start dancing on the side-lines, but it was something about the rehearsed feeling of it that really left a bad taste in the mouth. The way Pardew turned to the camera and went into his routine felt like he was deliberately trying to own the conversation around the game. Pardew, in becoming a real life GIF machine, showed why managers have become so prominent. In an age where sports fans are looking for entertainment value as much as anything else, managers are in the position to be the jester on the side-line, with a platform to steal the show if they are so inclined.

The real reason this FA Cup will be remembered is for the shocking news that broke moments after the final whistle that Louis Van Gaal will be replaced by Jose Mourinho. It was an inglorious end for a manager who had just led United to their first FA Cup for 12 years. United were so keen to bring in the Mourinho box office appeal that they dumped a manager moments after he won a major trophy. It is a strange paradox of today’s game that managers have become the stars but at the same time are seen as essentially expendable. The manager roulette of trying to find the right star for your team overshadowed the result Sunday and now is dominating conversation ahead of next season. The dominant narrative has become not about the great players who might light up the premier league, but the new managers whose soap opera style interactions will be stealing headlines.

The Premier League has reached the stage, unique to almost any sports league on the planet, where the managers have become bigger stars than the players. Sport has become about so much more than athletic endeavour, it is now more than ever about entertainment. It’s become reality television and therefore is sustained by personalities. Footballers are not always known for having dynamic personalities, and the gap has been filled by managers. For now at least, the real stars of the Premier League are the managers. It doesn’t look likely to change, so nothing to do other than embrace it, and enjoy Mourinho v Guardiola playing out in Manchester next season.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search