Louis van Gaal: Foreign Managers & An Awkward Old Habit

Has a British manager ever had a “bizarre rant”?

I ask because that’s a description which only ever seems to be used to characterise a foreign manager. In some cases, it’s justified and there have been instances in which the pressure of the profession has evidently taken a choking grip on a Rafael Benitez or a Jose Mourinho.

But there does seem to be a growing habit of taking aim at manager’s mental faculties, but it’s one which only ever seems to apply to those without a UK passport.

Louis van Gaal’s performance at Manchester United has been little short of dismal this season. His team are - frankly - unwatchable and his employment is rightly being questioned. But take note of the adjectives which are seeping out of his press-conferences and making their way onto the back-pages: he is commonly portrayed very creatively and painted with the tones of lunacy.

It’s all very disingenuous. Van Gaal is evidently quite arrogant and he can seem awkward when interviewed, but this is still a man who speaks English as a second-language and whose personality is probably contorted by translation. When he’s angry or upset, that’s naturally exaggerated and, increasingly, used as the inspiration for an unflattering caricature.

Everything seems to be embellished: every stern word is amplified into a loss of temper, any exchange with the press which is less than “matey” becomes evidence of a lack of self-control.

It’s cartoonish, in a sort of unsavoury Viz way: Lunatic Foreign Manager is a strange construct derived from insularity and subconscious xenophobia. Andre Villas-Boas was forced into that familiar costume, Fabio Capello wore it during his time with the English national team, and even the mild-mannered, cautious Manuel Pellegrini never seems more than a staccato sentence away from being photoshopped into a straight-jacket.

It’s really uncomfortable - especially so considering that plenty of British managers are afforded far greater latitude. Alan Pardew has repeatedly shown himself to be a man of very little self-control, yet his indiscretions over the years have barely provoked a murmur. Pardew may not have managed any clubs which sit in the natural glare of the media spotlight, but imagine what the response might have been had Benitez, van Gaal, or Villas-Boas head-butted David Meyler?

Similarly, what response would Nigel Pearson’s James McArthur moment have drawn had he had an accent in his surname?

Flawed management is what it is and, irrespective of nationality, all of these men’s coaching reputations are vulnerable if they don’t perform. But the terms with which they’re derided need to be universal or, at the very least, the wilful misinterpretation of language difficulties or cultural differences really should be coming to an end; it’s 2016 and the Little Englander act wore thin a long, long time ago.

Irritation is not always fury, peculiar speech patterns are not always an indication of psychosis. That should go without saying, but that separation all too frequently gets lost in pursuit of a personality assassination.

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