Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Dalglish's star is shining at it's brightest...for now...

Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star writes of the thankless job of the manager, and about how to make the manager's star shine.

The curious thing about managing a soccer team is how little actual soccer is involved.

Most of the job involves coddling your players and thinking up names to call the officials. Assistant coaches do the actual training and plan the tactics. It’s your job not to look too fat in a track suit.

During games, it helps if you stand transfixed at the touchline, aping deep concentration and pretending you have some say in the outcome. Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola does this with his arms crossed and his eyes slit, so now everyone else does that, too.

Beside the lavish salary, the job is completely thankless.

Take Ruud Gullit. This man used to be a god. Then he became a manager, and can’t seem to take off his roller skates. He’s been travelling downhill and picking up speed for 15 years.

Watching the poor guy grimace through press conferences as L.A. Galaxy manager — with a stupefied, ‘How did I fall so far?’ look on his face — was enough to make you weep.

Now he’s taken a gig in Chechnya, coaching the Terek Grozny team. Yes, that Grozny. The team’s owner is Chechen president/warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. If you believe Human Rights Watch, the 34-year-old Kadyrov is Genghis Khan in a cheap suit.

Lots of heads of state have their own football teams. But how many have their own private jail/torture chamber? Kadyrov does. It must make buying a birthday gift for the guy a real hassle.

In the delusional tradition of Moammar Gadhafi’s (crummy) soccer-playing son, Al-Saadi, Kadyrov also fancies himself a player. He apparently plans to join the Chechen squad when they play a friendly against Brazil later this month.

Kaka & Co. won’t have any trouble picking him out. Kadyrov is the one carrying a gold-plated pistol.

Yes, this sounds promising. If I were Ruud Gullit, I wouldn’t go for any lonely walks after three-game losing skids. Give the man this much — he must love his work. Or the smell of money.

Remember that Gullit was one of the friends new Toronto FC boss Aron Winter called before he decided to leave Ajax for the Exhibition grounds. Looking at how his mentor has landed, Winter must feel a little more urgency in his work. There’s nothing like the prospect of a job in war-torn Somethingistan to make seem a Columbus-Salt Lake City tilt palatable.

Of course, there’s the flip side. If the team wins — or, more specifically, if the team starts winning — the manager is the genius who made it happen. How? Even he has no idea. But he’s happy to take the credit.

After whipping Manchester United 3-1 on Sunday, Liverpool’s newish Scots boss Kenny Dalglish is officially the finest man ever produced by the United Kingdom, including Churchill and Henry IV. He can run NASA and the World Bank at the same time. If hostile aliens arrive, it should be Kenny Dalglish who organizes the combined forces of the human race to turn them back.

What’s Dalglish done? Nothing really. He sold Fernando Torres, the team’s best player. He tried to look convinced when they took the lion’s share of that money and spent it on ponytail life-support system Andy Carroll, a man who’s played half a season in the Premiership and keeps injuring himself in bars.

Dalglish also decided, reasonably, that high-profile earlier signings like Christian Poulsen should stop moping around the practice squad and begin earning their bread on the first team. This is what passes for penetrating insight into men’s souls.

Most importantly, he’s beaten the Premierships two biggest bullies — first Torres’ new team, Chelsea, and now United.

So for now, Dalglish is golden. He’ll be golden right up until the next time he loses to Everton. And then he’ll be an idiot. In between, there’s really nothing he can do save looking excited and trying to keep Carroll off the rip.

But don’t despair, Ken. Even if things do go terribly wrong, there will no doubt be a job opening in Grozny some time soon.

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