About the author Kevin – I live in Chicago and have been lucky enough to be around soccer all of his life. In 2008, he had an opportunity to work in the AS Monaco FC Centre de Formation, the youth academy inside the Stade Louis II. It was a thrill. Since then I have bounced around a few other jobs trying to stay involved in the sport.
Barcelona legend and the man largely seen as the philosophical benefactor to the current brilliance enjoyed by Catalonian fans, Johan Cruyff took a shot at Jose Mourinho in the wake of Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey triumph.
“He only cares about the result and doesn’t care much for good football” the Dutchman claimed.
Removing this zinger from the context of the often entertainingly petty and wonderfully never ending feud between the two clubs, it is a striking statement that poses interesting questions to the modern day manager.
What is the job of the manager in today’s game? What is the full scope of his responsibilities?
To develop players? Win? Entertain? For the more ethereal of us – promote some sort of footballing purity? For the more cynical – make money?
I am sure I am taking this debate well beyond the original intentions of Cruyff’s quip, but I think his comment offers an opportunity for reflection.
In a way, Jose Mourinho is guilty as charged. He is very much concerned with titles. With the 2011 Copa del Rey victory, the former translator has now won a trophy in each of the last 6 seasons, an amazing accomplishment and a mouth-watering line on a resume for owners around the world.
But he is also without question a tactical Stradivarius and does very much care about Cruyff’s “good football”.
Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid’s footballing accomplishment in the Copa del Rey Final can not be denied.
They played with irresistible passion and murderous intensity. They were organized and disciplined on defense and decisive and cutting on the attack. They defeated what may come to be seen as one of the greatest groups of players of all time in the current Barcelona side and finally handed one of the world’s most storied and successful clubs in history their first title in almost 3 years.
Football ideologies aside, even Cruyff after a moment’s thought and the flow of blood evenly distributed away from his head, would have to concede the merit of their performance and the undeniable presence of “good football” on display last Wednesday night at the Mestalla.
With the criticism of Mourinho in its proper place, the more interesting point of Cruyff’s comment lays waiting to be contended.
From Manchester City’s continued rise to relevance on the back of unprecedented spending to Chelsea’s 80 million dollar signing of Fernando Torres, football is big business, and this is news to no one.
Cogs in the wheel, managers are a part of this reality. In the end, they put the money making goods on the field; however, even Sir Alex Ferguson can not deny his inescapable dependence on and participation in the commercial side of the game.
Managers teeter on a paper thin edge that separates the purity of sport from the necessary commercial realities of the business of football.
And they suffer for it.
They are both held responsible to the interests of the fans, players, and sport as well as those of the owners, sponsors, and marketing departments.
At times, success and failure become muddled. They take on new meanings as conflicting interest compete to make a manager’s job at best thankless and at worst a losing battle.
I think Cruyff’s quote in a way is almost endearing. Beneath the snarky, arrogant surface, his words almost vent a frustration with the unstoppable contemporary forces in the game, forces that have brought football to television in HD around the world but threaten to pervert its beauty and simplicity.
With the space shrinking for this voice and perspective to be heard with any meaning, I for one can overlook his hot tempered slight, and appreciate the stubbornness with which he defends his David against the Goliath of unavoidable transformations in the sport we love.
For better or worse, football is always on the move.
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