The Changing Narratives of Soccer

May 12, 2014
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Last week we saw the decimation of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid.

Within minutes of the final whistle, pundits, commentators and heartless mercenaries like myself were taking to their respective publications to sneer at Pep Guardiola’s once lauded ‘tiki-taka’ football philosophy in which his team are instructed to keep possession for vast periods of the game, normally just outside the opponents box, and wait oh so patiently for an opening or a mistake.

The ‘tiki taka’ tactic seemed to have worked pretty well in the Bundesliga as Bayern won the league with seven games to spare. It also seemed to have worked reasonably well when Guardiola won 17 trophies in four years at Barcelona. It also seems to have worked pretty well for the Spanish national team as they have won the last two consecutive European cups, and a World Cup in between, but when Bayern came up against the counter attacking style employed by Ancellotti’s Real Madrid, they came undone, and were beaten emphatically (5-0 on aggregate)

Had Guardiola won, and its not as though Bayern didn’t have any chances, the fickle press would be lionizing him once again, but this is of no real significance. What I believe we are seeing though, and what has been on the rise for a number of years now, is a shift in the football narrative.

Pep Guardiola
Josep Guardiola of Barcelona during a Spanish League match between FC Barcelona and UD Levante at the Nou Camp Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. Image by Maxisport

The narrative shift…

At first I thought that the press were becoming more football savvy. The focus used to be on the players with tactics, philosophies, and formations a mere afterthought.

I don’t believe this is because we suddenly know more; it is because all these facets of the football game are now the domain of its emerging protagonist: the football manager.

When I grew up watching football, the twenty-two men on the pitch were characters; I’m talking about footballers who had spent the night before the game drunkenly crashing their Ford Cosworths through their neighbor’s white picket fence.

We struggle to relate to today’s finely tuned, media trained, sterile athletes, and the manager has come to fill that void. In the football manager we have a far more complex, and ultimately flawed character.

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho looks on during UEFA Champions League football match against Dynamo Kyiv on November 4, 2009 in Kiev, Ukraine. Image by katatonia82


There are so many different manager archetypes, from the failed players (Mourinho, Wenger, Ferguson) to the more celebrated (Mancini, Ancelotti), pragmatists to dogmatic philosophers. What connects all these middle aged men is not just an appetite for success, but a constant struggle for relevance in a game which is always in danger of leaving them behind.

This makes managers vulnerable. Every week we see these ageing heroes of yesteryear making mistakes, losing their tempers, losing their jobs. This is what we have come to associate ourselves with, and this is why the narrative has somewhat unconsciously switched to the manager who stands alone on touchline berating the fourth official, head butting players, influencing the referee, playing mind games with his opposite number and goading the opposition fans.

The players on the pitch have merely become a canvas.

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