A former Premier League manager approached us here at Tales and asked that we publish his diaries, so he could show the public what life is like out of the game. His only request was that he remained anonymous. Below is this week’s entry:
At this time of year, teams are very aware of the fate likely to befall them. The teams competing at the top know roughly where they will finish, give or take the odd position. That band of mediocre teams filling up the middle of the table are mentally on the beach and the teams at the bottom are desperately trying anything to survive.
This season, those last two groups have conflated together, forming a slurry of panicking mediocrity. West Bromwich Albion aside, all the teams from 10th position down are still in a relegation dogfight. In previous seasons, this situation bored me, as no sane manager would take a job like that at this point in the season.
However, this season, business is booming. My phone won’t stop ringing! Alan Pardew has left several voicemails, each one getting more desperate. If I have to hear him expunge bodily fluids again I’m going to call the police. I can’t sleep. It’s gotten to the point that at night when the only sound outside my window is the hum of the world, all I hear is that monster s***ing down the phone.
I’ve also been left messages from my long-time friend David Moyes, a rather angry and desperate Paul Lambert as well as a morose Antonio Conte. I was ready to pick up the phone and give the Italian a call, until the final message I heard caught my… ear.
It was Mauricio Pellegrino. Unlike all the other callers, who were a mixture of rage and desperation, Mauricio sounded…confused. He clearly just didn’t understand what had gone wrong. It was like listening to a dying canine, it tugged at my heartstrings. I’ve had animals die on me before. Even if you are the one to have inflicted the killing blow, it’s a horrible experience. I needed to save this confused animal, after all, aren’t humans just really big chimps?
I arrived on time for our meeting, but was late out of the car as I was rocking out to You! Me! Dancing! by Los Campesinos! which is genuinely one of the best songs of the last fifteen years. Upon entering the reception, it turned out the receptionist had dialled 99, her finger poised over the final 9 key.
‘We thought you were either having a seizure or were ready to murder someone,’ she said to me, ashen-faced.
‘Look, when that guitar intro is climbing up, I just can’t stop myself,’ I admitted, before walking through to Mauricio’s office, humming as I went.
As I was walking past the desk, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg tried to overtake me, almost shaking with fury. I quickly grabbed him and pushed him up against the wall. He was clearly ready to blow. Time to do some consulting.
‘Get a grip man! What’s wrong with you? You can’t go to see your manager in this state!’
‘I need to say my piece!’ His eyes were wild. This man had gone.
‘Look at you, you chunky plaice. What kind of example does this set for your teammates?’
‘I don’t care anymore,’ he said, tears filling his eyes. ‘I CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER SIDEWAYS PASS!’
It was impossible to stay stoic in the face of such grief. Tears poured down my cheeks. I pulled the Dane towards me and held him close.
‘I know,’ I whispered in his ear, ‘I’m going to talk to him now… I’ll make it all better.’
We wept together in the corridor. I felt weak afterwards, but after wiping each other’s tears away I turned to move towards Mauricio’s office. Pierre grabbed my hand and I looked up at his pleading face.
‘Please…please save us.’
‘I…don’t do that anymore,’ I said, drifting away.
I kicked Mauricio’s door open, ready to sort this idiot out.
‘Alan! Don’t scare me like that,’ he said, lowering his fists. ‘I thought you were Fraser Forster.’
At that moment, the large goalkeeper stuck his head around the door. Mauricio flinched.
‘Booooorss?’ Forster’s voice rumbled through the office.
‘Sorry, Fraser, can we reschedule our meeting for tomorrow, okay?’
‘Yarrrr,’ he groaned, before loping away.
Feeling ignored, I attempted to start our meeting.
‘Mauricio, I found your phone call confusing…why do you need me here today?’
‘Yes, I don’t understand why I am in trouble,’ he said sadly. ‘We are playing well as far as I can see.’
I could see in his eyes that he truly believed himself. How? How could he think that five wins all season was good?
‘I don’t want to upset you, Mauricio, but your team isn’t doing very well. I think that might be why the fans are upset.’
‘Excuse me?’ he said, taken aback. ‘We’ve done okay. Yes, not too many wins, but we haven’t lost many.’
‘You’ve lost twelve games. That’s not great. You’re just outside the bottom three, a few more games without a win and you’ll be in real trouble.’
‘But we’re so solid…’ he looked at his shoes. Clearly, he was a rather dense individual.
‘Okay… why don’t we look at your tactics?’ I pulled over the whiteboard he had to the side, with all the magnetic counters stuck to it.
He started moving all the counters around, talking me through the defensive shape he had set up. It was good stuff, stuff that I myself had used in my successful managerial past. But then he seemed to get a little lost for words as he moved further up the pitch.
‘This part is where…’ he said weakly, tailing off somewhat. ‘I…don’t understand the…point of…goals.’ He started to look a little dizzy.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What about the joy of scoring? The team this man possesses! I could mould art out of it, their potential for beauty is unprecedented! Redmond, Tadic, Lemina, Hojbjerg, Boufal, I see their names and I see paintbrushes. I see St Mary’s stadium as my canvas. This fool sees solidity as the aim? We’re in this game to create, not to destroy! I gripped the chair I was sat in, such was the rage boiling through me.
‘Are you happy?’ I snarled, leaping to my feet. That red mist that was becoming all too familiar was starting to cloud my vision.
‘Yes,’ he said, turning and smiling at me.
I suddenly snapped out of my rage. How could this man be happy with such a massive underachievement?
‘The fans don’t seem to like me for some reason, but that’s okay. I am happy within myself.’
I looked deep into his eyes. Gareth Campesinos was right. This man is undeveloped, he’s ignorant, he’s stupid and he’s happy. Is it worth trying to break this fool’s completely ridiculous understanding of the sport he loves? Yes, he may be wrong, but living in this ignorant bliss might be best for him. Tearing his worldview apart would be akin to throwing a mentally ill person into an asylum. We’ve moved on from that, maybe I should too?
‘You know, Mauricio,’ I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. ‘If they don’t like it, stuff ‘em. If you’re happy, I’m happy and they should be happy too.’
At that moment, the phone rang.
I knew. My bones vibrated. As a manager, you know that phone call. This was the end.
Mauricio’s face didn’t change. He still had that gormless smile. Poor, simple idiot. I felt like George Milton with a gun to the back of Lennie’s head.
‘We’re gonna get a little place,’ I mumbled.
‘Hmm?’ Mauricio said, his ears pricking up.
‘Nothing mate. Listen, take that call, I’ll see you when I see you.’
‘But, you didn’t do anything,’ he said, looking perplexed.
I just kept walking. As I walked through the entrance foyer, I saw Hojbjerg. His eyes were red from all the tears. Our eyes met and I gave him a wink. I let myself see the joy moving across his face as I turned and walked out to the car, ready to drive home.
Another successful session of management consulting. I’m getting good at this.