“I know we are winners and losers and that’s all. But I think it’s not a good message for society, for our kids, for our teenagers, showing that just the winner is perfect. We are creating a depressed people, loser people. In football I know we want to win but just win once and the other is disaster? It’s not, it doesn’t work in that way.”
Finally. A true message about the meaning of sport. It is not just about winning. It is about the journey, the fight to improve, bettering ourselves. How refreshing.
Who is this socially conscious messenger? Who is it that wants to win but is much more concerned about the children? Pep Guardiola, of course.
He is objectively right. The obsession with declaring anyone a failure who doesn’t win probably doesn’t help our kids and teenagers. Most of us are not winning, or never win. Dealing with defeat and realizing it is not the end of the world is a positive thing. That own goal I scored on my cubs football debut has set me up for the multiple rejections I’ve faced since.
And after a week where muting the words “serial+winner” would halve your social media carbon footprint, hearing from the best that winning doesn’t really matter is quite energizing. It is quite a lot for one man to balance trying to win everything and simultaneously halt the creation of a depressed generation. But this doesn’t sound like Pep. His well-publicized attention to detail is second to none.
Anyone who has been in the Manchester City dressing room knows it’s built in a circle with specially designed acoustics so you can speak at a normal volume and your voice is amplified into the ears of the players sitting at their named places. This is the man who dictated that stadium turf should be no longer than 19mm and who changed the entire dining setup to encourage players to bond. And he is really quite good at winning.
Trawling back through his interviews, he doesn’t often send the message that it’s OK to lose. He isn’t Neil from The Young Ones. When dictionaries become just a series of YouTube clips, under “devastation” it will play his press conference after the defeat to Spurs in the Champions League last season. Never has the phrase “etched on his face” been so appropriate.
Pep’s epiphany comes at a time when Liverpool were nine points clear of his side at the top of the Premier League, grinding out win after win to the point where one bookmaker is already paying out on a first Merseyside title in 30 years. A cynic might suggest he is trying to justify City’s “lowly” position, or trying to make losing the title more bearable – two things he really doesn’t need to do. Or perhaps he’s just had a microphone shoved into his face so many times eventually he’s going to say something that doesn’t quite tally with his life’s work to date.
For one weekend it’d be a dream if all managers were given Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar curse. Then Pep’s post-match against Chelsea might read something like this: “We won today, probably didn’t deserve to, to be honest. But it’s bloody annoying because Liverpool got a spawny late winner at Palace and they’re better than us at the moment. And that really pisses me off because I really want to win everything. And I should have signed another center-back. I’ll probably be in for Soyuncu in January, and I might as well get Chilwell while I’m at it. Anyway, I have no real interest in this. Cheers.”
Almost every press conference, every post-match interview is a charade that we’re all in on. Manager after manager swooshing on to Sky Sports News to tell us how much they respect the man they’ll face in the other dugout – and how brilliant the opposition are regardless of their position. Then after the game criticize their opponents’ playing style, and the referee, and anything else they can use to avoid taking responsibility.
When a manager does break out from this torpor it becomes sensational. Garry Monk was asked about football’s other Pep – Clotet – before Sheffield Wednesday’s game with Birmingham. Clotet, you may remember, was assistant to Monk at Swansea, Leeds and Birmingham before controversially replacing him at St. Andrew’s in the summer. “You live and learn. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to a lot of people in football circles who warned me about him … Some choose to pursue their own opportunities in the worst possible way.” Clotet refused to rise to the bait in his own press conference.
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, is another notable exception to most of the norms. “I don’t want him to make mistakes and he can’t afford to make mistakes,” he said of Dean Henderson after the goalkeeper’s blunder against Liverpool in September. “First and foremost, he has to cut that out, because as with all the top goalkeepers that play, mistakes are very few and far between.”Wilder’s reaction to the mistake led pundits to suggest the on-loan keeper had been “hung out to dry” – a curious analogy when you think about it, because hanging things out to dry is just quite a sensible thing to do.
But I think we – the consumers – are to blame. Our insatiable thirst for news about nothing – not being able to sleep until we know the latest on Scott McTominay’s ankle. Believing that anyone is in the right frame of mind two minutes after a match to say anything sensible or considered. These everyday sporting lies aren’t evil – these are the managerial equivalent of claiming for every throw-in just because everyone else does. We all know it happens. And it’s OK. They are honest sporting lies.
The Guardian Sport