By Andi Thomas & Alex Netherton
Tony Pulis is a strange creature. He’s a grown man that chooses to wear a baseball cap, a football manager who seems to hate football, and, as we’re finding out after his Stoke side went and Stoked at Liverpool for ninety goalless, lightless, hopeless minutes of drudgery and pain, something of a moralist.
This week’s instalment of the Luis Suárez’s one-man mission to keep football comment writers in work was an admirably innovative slice of simulation. Following a straightforward stumble, with three defenders standing around at a respectful distance, he Buckaroo’d all four of his limbs out and bellyflopped to the floor, face turned plaintively toward the referee. A nation fell about in laughter. Even the defenders were too amused to be cross. But not Righteous Tony. “I’ve been on about and banging the drum about people who fall over,” he said, a trifle confusingly. “It’s an embarrassment. The FA should be looking at this.”
However, our brave Defender of the Soul of Football has been notably quiet on an earlier incident, a meeting between the ribcage of Suárez and the right foot of Teutonic flesh-golem Robert Huth. Perhaps the Uruguayan could claim that the shock of not being kicked provoked some kind of spasm. Certainly Pulis, who ducked out of a press conference rather than discuss Huth’s Huthings, is guilty of being a little inconsistent when it comes to what players should and shouldn’t be up to. Earlier in the season, when Peter Crouch handled the ball into Manchester City’s net, Pulis thought it was “brilliant” that they’d “got away with it” against a “bigger club”; now he’s begrudging a team from the lower reaches their own moment of opportunist chicanery.
He’s not alone in his contradictions, though. Over at Newcastle Alan Pardew has called for the FA to look at whether Robin van Persie’s elbow did naughty things to Yohan Cabaye’s face, but has completely passed over Cheick Tioté’s improvised soft-shoe shuffle on Tom Cleverley’s lower leg. And last week, a nation watched in horror as Alex Ferguson, smarting from a first-half spanking by a team with an actual midfield, had the gall to suggest that added time wasn’t being added in sufficient amounts.
Managerial hypocrisy is back, baby! And it never, ever, ever went away.
It’s not that any of these managers are wrong, of course. Diving is bad, elbowing is worse, and added time is a risible fudge that bears absolutely no relation to the realities of how much football’s happened. (We’re not the first to suggest this, but: two thirty-minute halves, a clock that stops every time the ball goes dead, job done.) It’s the selectiveness that annoys people. How dare Pulis draw attention to the mote in Suárez’s eye, when he’s picked a violent plank at centre-half?
So let’s make this very clear now, in the interests of lowering blood pressures in the future: about this stuff, consistency and truth, football managers do not care. Not a jot, not an iota, not a scintilla of a sliver of a suggestion. When they complain, they do not do so with one eye on fairness and the other on righteousness. They do not care whether good prevails over evil; they care whether they prevail over everybody else. Lady Justice means nothing to them: instead of scales and a sword, their goddess holds a carefully edited DVD in one hand and a bulging dossier in the other, and her blindfold obscures just the one eye.
Last season, Mark Hughes was saved from relegation not by his own canniness, or the talents of his team, but by the (admittedly effective) strategy of being the fourth-worst side in the division. In the warm afterglow of staying up, he assured the fans that under his stewardship, QPR would never be in that position again. Then he looked back over the season and realised that their struggles were due, in large part, to the constant need to integrate new signing after new signing, which prevented him from establishing a coherent team. Then he vowed not to repeat the same mistake, because while he might be able to purchase plenty of talent, it would only unsettle everything and make his job that much harder.
Then he forgot all of that and bought Ji-Sung Park (who we suspect died in 2010 but has been replaced with a hapless lookalike for insurance purposes), Fábio, Robert Green, Júlio César, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakité, Junior Hoilett, José Bosingwa, Esteban Granero, Stéphane Mbia, and now look what’s happened. Oh, Leslie.