Sunday 10 March 2019

The return of Brendan's Hollywood smile amid the rise of the secret showbiz football managers

So Brendan's back in the Premier League, here once again to tell us in his sexy, Irish croak how one day he'll  save the world with his super-tactics, even if, by God, he'll have to sacrifice his principles of loyalty to do it.

During Rodgers' lively spell at Liverpool, some people cruelly dubbed him "Brenton" for his unyielding thirst for self-promotion, like fellow tie-smoothing boss, David Brent. Rodgers even starred in his own sitcom, Being Liverpool, where the new man in charge turned team talks into raps (all shoulder-dips and shimmies as he lays down the vocals) and, in a pre-season address, showed the squad an envelope that contained the name of a player in the room that he said would ultimately let the club down. This scene took a couple of takes as Brendan's first envelope-wagging moment resulted in a piece of paper falling out that depicted an unknown artist's impression of him frolicking with livestock in his previous residence of Swansea. Raheem Sterling was said to have been initially scapegoated for this, only for substantial evidence to eventually point to Brendan's best mate and assistant, Colin Pascoe, who was subsequently the subject of a mock sacking via a telephone, which Rodgers spoke into knowing he'd dialled the wrong numbers.

In Rodgers defence, he is at least a real person, and interesting though the Brent resemblance is, his authentic existence as Rodgers goes against the grain of a growing trend of Prem managers who may not be what they seem. I will start with the man Rodgers succeeds at Leicester City, Claude Puel - or at least, that is the name given to him... In the same way that Clark Kent fooled swathes of the American public, and indeed even his closest co-workers, with his canny use of thick-rimmed lenses to avoid assumptions about him actually being Superman, the creators of Claude Puel seemed to expect that we would be tricked by a similarly limp disguise; however, it soon became apparent to most observers that the person fronting up to the tv cameras in that humourless manner was actually the acclaimed Hollywood actor Ben Stiller doing a borderline racist comedy accent.

Stiller/Puel's appointment at The King Power Stadium may seem an oddity, but there had of course been talk, following Leicester's more-improbable-with-every-passing-year title win in 2015-16, about fairytales and films, and in these days when people say that the business model is more important than the football itself, perhaps the temptation to get Stiller/Puel on board to really pull off that role and target a box office smash, was too much to resist.

Maybe that's one explanation, but it doesn't really satisfy question marks over mis-casting. After all, real manager of Leicester's against-the-odds triumph, Claudio Ranieri, had a much better facial fit in popular camp thespian, John Inman. Sadly, Inman was dead eight years by the time Ranieri was lifting the Prem trophy, which possibly explains the delay in the project - and Craig Shakespeare - until 'Puel' could be discovered.  

On-the-money football fans will know that 'Puel' had already been in production at fellow Premier League outfit, Southampton in 2016-17 - the very season after Leicester's title-winning campaign - where astonishing research of the manager's role took his team to the heights of a League Cup Final, only for him to be sacked, mysteriously it seemed at the time, at the end of that debut campaign. There were, though, suspicions that Stiller couldn't combine both the Southampton job and contractual obligations to Brad's Status, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Play Dodgeball with Ben Stiller.  

Yet, this wasn't the first time Southampton had fired or hired a man more accustomed to delivering lines on television or stage. In January 2013, bonafide football manager, Nigel Adkins, who'd led the club to two successive promotions in returning to the Premier League, and had just overseen a two-goal fightback at Stamford Bridge, was unexpectedly replaced by fully paid-up cockney, Danny Dyer. Masquerading under the pseudonym, Mauricio Pochettino, Dyer opened the way for the likes of Stiller/Puel with heavy reliance on an exaggerated foreign accent.

Wise not to expose his professional East End patter to a public that widely sympathised with Adkins, Dyer took an even more pragmatic approach than Stiller/Puel, and conducted post match interviews in his 'native' language, accompanied by a 'translator' who, according to an insider, was actually some bloke off the street who'd been threatened with a "slashed boat race" if he didn't do what was
he was told.

Like Stiller/Puel, Dyer threw himself into his new role and soon won over the fans with a hard-running, hard-pressing style adapted from his portrayal of top boy hooligan, Tommy Johnson, in the film version of Football Factory (2004). Dyer can now be seen at the helm of London's Tottenham Hotspur, where he has rented out a short-to-medium tenancy on a top four residence and has relaxed into a limited use of the English language ('translator' bumped off out the back of a van and into the sea). With demand for his services at an all time peak, Dyer is careful not to slip into Ossie Ardiles mode during appearances on comedy panel shows, or in his now regular spot in East Enders as barman, Mick Carter, while avoiding going full 'apples and pears' in the dressing room on matchday.  

As for Southampton's current boss, well, after unsuccessful appointments with qualified coaches Mauricio Pellegrino (not to be confused with 'Mauricio Pochettino'/Danny Dyer) and Mark Hughes, the Saints went back this season to their tried and trusted method of going for someone from the big screen, landing the haunted, booming-voiced Englishman David Morrisey, playing the role of Ralph Hassnhuttl of Austria. At the time of writing, Morrisey/Hasenhuttl is making a decent stab of clearing up the mess made by his likeable and unlikeable - respectively - predecessors.

So, in reversing the trend of footballers turning to acting (Vinny Jones, Stan Collymore, Eric Cantona - both Collymore and Morrisey appeared in the critically panned Basic Instinct sequel, Basic Instinct 2, and it is believed that the pair struck up a friendship on set, offering each other advice on their specialist professions), Southampton have hit upon a management philosophy that clearly works for them. In a somewhat ironic twist, Ranieri was sacked by Fulham this month following an away defeat to Morrisey/Hasenhuttl's Southampton, effectively put out of a job at the hands of Southampton just as Stiller/Puel, the man/men entrusted to play the Italian on screen were.

As Stiller himself might reflect, There's Something about St Mary's.                    


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