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Brian Clough

Where have all the personalities in English football gone?

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One of the most enjoyable things about listening to former players and managers talk is the stories about characters they’ve worked with in years gone by.

The quirks of iconic coaches such as Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson, and perhaps how players like Paul Gascoigne, George Best, Roy Keane, Vinnie Jones et al were around the dressing room.

But in 20 years time, when this current Premier League generation have hung up their boots and embark on their own after dinner speaking circuit, who will they have to talk about? Figures who encapsulate supporters, who are unique and innovative in their craft, and extend beyond the silverware they’ve sampled in their distinguished careers? Perhaps not so much.

Personalities are certainly scarce in the modern British game. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had an aura when he arrived at the Blues when he first took the job on in 2004, but the rigors of managing on a knife-edge have moulded his current persona into one which is a little more withdrawn and a lot more bitter.

Even Jurgen Klopp, just over a month into his tenure as Liverpool boss, seems to have been inhibited by the pressures of the English game. The German, while always beaming, is much more cautious in his dialogue since taking over at Anfield and has already commented on the unrelenting media coverage.

The result of such scrutiny and subsequent hyperbole has made managers and players alike form mechanistic personas.

Although managers have their weekly press conferences ahead of Premier League matches, and they are extensively covered by various outlets, often journalists could write up the report accurately before the briefing has even begun. Recap of the previous match, kind words for the opposition and an injury update is typically how they go.

The same goes for players. Pre-match, post-match, the same lines are dragged out. “It’s important for the team, the opposition deserve respect, we need to be at our best, we’re taking it one game at a time.” Monotonous, indeed (mostly due to the media training that professional footballers get).

It’s certainly something the game has brought upon itself, though, as every word out of step with the party line is now latched upon, bandied around social media and sensationalised all over the globe.

Wayne Rooney, who played in Everton colors during pre-season despite still being a Manchester United player, was clearly wary of this fact in his post-match interview following Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial. Not wanting to say anything to offend his former or current employers, the result was an awkward couple of minutes in front of the camera which naturally became a social media hit.

Even Mourinho’s recent, infamous seven-minute rant failed to get many pulses racing. The manner in which the Portuguese spoke reeked of a rehearsed retort, something he most likely concocted as his side floundered out on the field. Innovators and encapsulators are a dying breed, it’d seem.

The implications for saying something which doesn’t fall in line with the Football Association’s stringent set of rules is another factor. Criticize a referee and you can be sure a fine or warning will follow. Criticize the opposition and it’ll be on the back pages all week. Managers, who have enough on their plate as it is, would rather suck it up, adhere to cliches and do without the furore.

Some have even suggested doing away with immediate post-match interviews entirely for managers, with the inevitable result a plain back-and-forth or a fine for a beleaguered boss. But it’s the only time, with emotions running high, supporters occasionally get a glimpse into the human side of their heroes, instead of a pre-programmed exterior.

For the average fan, post-match interviews and press conferences are no longer anticipated with a degree of intrigue as they would have been with some of the aforementioned men, wondering what a gravitating character may say next. They’re an afterthought, a blemish on coverage, even.

Do viewers stay glued to the television after the match waiting to hear from the manager? Watching highlight shows recorded from the night before, does anyone not fast forward through the post-match dialogue with managers and players to get onto the next game? A manager’s take used to feel as though it was entwined in the matchday experience. Now it’s very much a separate entity.

It’s a shame, because the personalities must be there. Granted, players and even managers do have things a lot easier than generations earlier. But to make it to the elite level, those involved in the game require unshakeable self-confidence, ingenuity of thought and a fair degree of ego, as well as outrageous talent.

Those traits should make for managers and players that have plenty to share with the soccer stratosphere. Behind closed doors, they may well do, but as the game motors forward, those who roam on the pitch and prowl on the sidelines at the very summit of the sport seem increasingly robotic.

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