Passion and football should never be mutually exclusive. Without passion football would just be American football. A game played in short bursts with excruciatingly frequent intervals between play, which, by the end of the game, leaves you in a state that can only be described as boredom. No, nobody wants that. Passion gives an ebb and flow to the Premier League that can barely be recreated in other leagues, let alone other sports. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else to it, nor does it mean that passion is always a positive attribute. Take management for example. Every manager has their own style, some are passionate and charismatic, others the quiet thoughtful types. Watching Andre Villas-Boas jumping around on the touchline fighting off the imaginary bats like a teenager who’s taken too much LSD is comical enough, and fans do like to see that their manager cares, but how productive is it really? Similarly Paolo Di Canio’s recent outburst against his Swindon team was alarming, and not just for how poor his English still is. There’s constructive criticism and then there is over-the-top, harsh, humiliating criticism.
The very nature of passion means that it enables us to do things that otherwise we might not be capable of, it drives us on to go that extra mile and on the pitch this can often be the difference between success and failure. However in management it normally just leads to managers saying and doing things they regret. Being passionate shows other managers where your weaknesses are, and allows others to exploit them. Take, for example, Kevin Keegan in 1997 or Rafa Benitez a few years ago. What good did their passion do for their teams in the title race? None. Ferguson used it against them to heap pressure on their own teams and they crumbled.
As a manager however without any passion yourself it is hard to inspire character within your team. If I have one criticism of Arsene Wenger it is that often he does not seem to rile his team up enough before matches. I understand that the style of play he wants them to adhere to requires them to remain calm and thinking clearly but sometimes they just need that little bit more inspiration. As much as he says his team have character, over the last few years they have often failed to show it.
But that is the thing about passion. It is something to be used, but not all the time. You have managers wearing their heart on their sleeves and being undone as a result and then you have the ultra-calm manager whose team are often complacent. As with anything in life the balance is key and who better to demonstrate that than Alex Ferguson. In press conferences he is always calm, he speaks in a quiet, monotone voice. On the touchline his most frequent celebration is to stand up and clap, sometimes he doesn’t even stand up. However, in the dressing room you know he’s laying down the law. It doesn’t matter if you’re David Bellion or David Beckham if you’re not pulling your weight you can be sure you are going to know about it from Ferguson. That way he inspires his team behind closed doors and remains a beacon of calm in the public eye. We only know he’s a fierce manager because his players always say so. He can be cutting in his remarks to the press and in true Scottish fashion he knows how to hold a grudge but it is extremely rare to see him fly off the handle at somebody in public.
The supporters need to know that the manager is there for more than just the money (Sven) and the players need to know that their manager believes in them. But too much of anything is toxic. Managers like Villas-Boas and Di Canio are relatively new to management and perhaps in a few more years they will calm down a bit, although I doubt it. That sort of things is fine when you are winning but as Jose Mourinho could probably tell you after his parade in the Nou Camp after beating Barcelona with Inter Milan, showing how much you care can come back to bite you if you end up repeatedly losing to the team you so passionately gloated over. And as far as Paolo Di Canio is concerned he should remember that as greatly as you can inspire your players with passionate praise, so too can you demoralise them with such fierce and passionate criticism.
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