Managing the impossible: Roger Moore scores

Last updated : 28 January 2008 By Roger Moore
If you haven't seen 'Mike Basset England Manager' shame on you. If a better football film has been made, then I haven't seen it.

Although the recently released-to-DVD 'In the Hands of the Gods' runs it a very short-head second and both are a distance clear of the hapless 'Escape to Victory' which, frankly, should have been locked up in Stalag 17 never to be released.

But back to the subject in hand, Mike Basset. If Mike's unwitting selection of 'Benson and Hedges' is not worth the Blockbuster membership alone, then a watch of this film will tell you all there is to know about the challenges of modern-day football management.

Its makers may have intended it to be a parody, but in history lessons decades from now I guarantee this movie will be a set text to provide the most accurate observation of the trials and tribulations faced by the real-life Mike Bassets we know and love.

Harried by the press, abused by fans, pilloried by his own employers and finally ordained for failure, Basset's life bears uncanny resemblance to the challenges faced by managers at every level of the modern game.

So much so, the makers must surely have been giving a caustic observation on the realities of today's pressure-cooker environment. The uncomfortable truth of 'Mike Basset Football Manager' is that we, the distant members of the football family, are responsible for the monster's we've created in our own image at every club and country around the world.

If there's one thing every football fan can do, it's a better job than the incumbent manager of the team they follow - from the Scout Hut to the San Siro. And don't we love to show it?

Our egos feed a preposterous football media who connive and conspire to create legends from lepers and vice versa, often in the space of ninety minutes. If a player's single kick can define a career (Chris Waddle's penalty), the media need no such evidence.

Just a single tabloid sentence can condemn a perfectly good manager to the scrapheap and promote mediocrity to superstardom.

A case in point? One of my all-time favourite managers, Kevin Keegan. Now Keegan, you would think, is a gung-ho manager who sacrifices all at the altar of attacking football. You score four and we'll score five is the mantra most oft ascribed to the English Maradonna.

But here's a fact to set the record straight; in 1996, when Keegan's Newcastle finished Premiership runners-up, they conceded 37 goals, only two more than champions Manchester United, and the fourth best defence in the league.

The following season, in which Keegan quit Newcastle in the January, his team finished second again, this time conceding four goals less than the Premiership Champions. Poor Keegan is characterised by 'that' 4-3 against Liverpool and his subsequent impassioned outburst about the mind-games of arch-mental manipulator Alex Ferguson, rather than by his actual achievements.

I bet if you're honest, there's a good chance you made your judgement on Keegan's managerial prowess from the press as well, rather than from the internet where a little research can pay a handsome dividend.

It's the problem faced by Keegan and Basset alike. Managers, like players, are not always defined by their play or results, but by the persona created for them by journalists. Media management is almost more important than the job of coaching a squad to deliver on the pitch.

Only a few weeks back I heard Harry Redknapp's tenure at Southampton described by a former international defender and now a renowned pundit as a 'success'. Yes, high acclaim indeed for achieving what lesser managers had failed to do in nearly three decades of top-flight dwelling.

But Redknapp's media management is exemplary and his contemporaries no doubt genuinely believe that his time at Southampton ranks alongside his achievements with Bournemouth, West Ham and the old enemy, conveniently overlooking our first relegation in more than 30 years.

The tragedy is that all too often good and bad managers are not fashioned on the pitch, but in the bars around Wapping where a reputation can be manufactured to fit the circumstances of the day.

Worse, these reputations now proliferate on the internet, taking on a life of their own with those who type loudest commanding greater attention than their knowledge necessarily merits. Suddenly, sense is abandoned in pursuit of personal crusades. Opinions become facts and history is re-written.

Of course, we all want that most elusive of candidates, the manager who only ever wins and does so with awe-inspiring style. When you find one, a real one and not one fashioned in a Soho saloon bar, who is affordable and available will you let me know?

And until Arsene Wenger is on his uppers, then Billy Davies will do for me.