At least one manager will be smiling at the end of transfer deadline day today. Unfortunately Andre Villas-Boas has almost definitely got something wrong with his face so it’s not quite the same.
You see, no-one smiles as much as he’s been smiling and actually means it. He’s either realised himself or been told by someone at Tottenham that showing teeth a bit more will do his public image the kind of good that dropping Frank Lampard should have done but didn’t. And crucially, that positive public image is the stuff that makes managerial careers. Talent, meanwhile, is for losers.
“You realise, Andre, that if you look like you’re having the time of your life, even as you slide into oblivion or a disappointing draw at home to West Brom, no-one will really notice as long as you give them some teeth and say everything’s great,” someone has obviously pointed out. “Remember: you’re dealing with the public here. They’re incredibly thick. Look: I’ve just kicked a member of the public in the head and they haven’t noticed – it’s amazing quite how thick they are.” Tottenham’s new manager hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet (every time he pulls out the ‘AVB look’ it looks a bit like someone is poking him in the back with a rake), but the advice is sound—it’s going to work because the public likes people who tell them everything will be fine.
In fact, it’s already working. Two games into the new season and he’s got two negative results to his name already and there haven’t been any questions about his position as manager. The limited impact of these results could be down to any number of things—the difficulty of the games he’s had, the limited sample from which the results came, the lack of transfer window activity at Spurs and so on and so forth—but if a university education has learned me anything it’s that you’re simply to ignore elements which don’t fit your thesis. Hence: smiling has kept AVB’s fans and employers happy so far this season.
Well done smiling, it’s probably saved his career. At Chelsea, Villas-Boas admirably styled himself as a raving lunatic, using press conferences mainly to badmouth people and things and places and time—you know, to tell the truth about the real world—but it was never going to go down well. Whilst it was hugely enjoyable at times to see a manager refusing to make eye-contact with the media men, displeasing said media men tends to land you in bad times, especially—doy—if you don’t have the results to back you up. And in the end it did: they worked on getting rid of him from around week one.
The new way of doing things is going far down better. In his first interview as Tottenham manager he used the expression “excited” eight times*, and what more could the kind of scum that gets a newspaper column enjoy in a manager than that kind of optimism? Nothing. The happy conclusion has been that they mainly ignore him now. Teen idol Scott Oliver once wrote that Villas-Boas’ problems at Chelsea were found in “Laying bare his soul when he needed to box clever, being dogmatic and idealistic when he needed to be pragmatic.” And he was half right: AVB said and did the wrong things at the wrong time, but Oliver’s implied solution (pragmatism) is a little too nuanced for my taste. Smiling, alone, will do. Even speaking positively is only an added bonus: once you’re smiling, you could be throwing around accusations that everyone around you is a paedophile for all anyone will notice. Try it now, in the office: this is science.
And this way, everybody wins. Because although it’s a slight shame for those who enjoy a bit of contempt that the scowling of the old days had to go, there’s the payback that having to spend time honing a public image will in all likelihood make AVB even more angry on the inside. The seething resentment is just below the surface, which probably explains why he looks as though he’s visualising a therapy session gone bad every time he answers a question, or as though he’s stubbed his toe and is waiting for the pain to arrive every time he walks in front of a camera. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, except in the eyes of the public and the players and the media and basically everyone, being, as they all are, horrendously thick.
AVB might well end up with a pretty average squad of players at the end of today. But don’t you, the thick public, worry: whatever happens he’ll be in front of the cameras looking as though the rake has gone in hard come tomorrow afternoon. How does he keep it up? The rumour is he plays the lyrics to The Fall song “smile” over and over in his mind any time he goes out in public these days: “Tight faded male arse. Decadence and Anarchy. He said, he smiled. Something to dance to. A certain style. SMILE. SMILE. SMILE. SMILE. Meat Animals. SMILED. SMILED” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdKb-IxM3wY)
*An odd level of specificity will cover my laziness in not having gone over the interview more than once.
A quick note on Victor Valdes
Doctor Vic’s big slip, which I wrote about here last week, did in the end cost his Barcelona side the Spanish Super Cup. Appropriate, then, to relive my vivid description of what happened.
“Here’s what happened– I’ll try and bring it to life for you, like a painter but with words and far, far better. Adriano passed the ball back to his goalkeeper, Valdes, like he would do in any match, even a Barcelona-Real Madrid match which some bad people might call an El Classico. Then Valdes, in his six yard box, controlled the ball with the outside of his right foot, flicking it slightly out to the side, cleverly, probably thinking that he would be setting himself up to play a pass with his favoured right foot. It went about a metre away from him but it could easily have been ninety centimetres, we can’t be sure. Then, with Angel Di Maria running at him – I couldn’t say his exact speed – he twists his right knee to the left, as if to fake that he was going to flick the ball back that way, before taking another touch with the outside of his foot again, and pushing the ball to the right again. Then, turning back maybe 50 degrees towards his goal, because Di Maria is right on him at this point, placing his arms around him, he takes a third touch with the outside of his right foot. Then he goes down. Then Di Maria does a goal.”