Embarrassingly, I didn’t realise Brentford were even in the Championship, let alone jostling for promotion. I also didn’t know – and honestly, shame on me – that they were one of the most dynamic, progressive clubs in the UK, operating under a ‘moneyball’ framework and generally outperforming all the wealthier teams around them. But I should have guessed the second I saw what head coach Thomas Frank wore on the touchline of this week’s Championship Play-Off Final. In stark contrast to his opposite number, Scott Parker – the archetypal, no-nonsense footballer – Frank dressed waaaay down in a simple v neck sweater, chinos and a trainers. Very continental; very cultured.
The archetypes of football manager style have been fairly well established for a long time. You have the straightforward PE Teacher (full tracksuit, preferably with a baseball cap: Tony Pulis, Eddie Howe), the High-End Doorman (needlessly slick suit, colour-corresponding shirt: Mauricio Pocchettino, Diego Simeone), the Junior Fitted-Kitchen Salesman (three-piece suit, tie-bar, pointy shoes: Gareth Southgate, Scott Parker), the Bank Manager (impossibly drab blazer, shirt and tie, sometimes a cardi when it’s cold: Arsene Wenger, Claudio Ranieri) and of course, Someone’s Uncle Reluctantly Attending A Wedding: Sam Allardyce.
But Brentford’s Thomas Frank is the latest resident of the technical area to challenge the status quo. There’s Pep Guardiola – his love of Rick Owens, Stone Island and amorphous, potentially musty knitwear is well documented. And now there’s Mikel Arteta, too. A kind of mini-Pep, sartorially (and tactically) speaking, who favours cup-sole trainers and those technical field jacket/blazer things that Milanese businessmen wear. Frank, below right, in an act of world class insouciance, went so far as to wear a pair of very straightforward Nike trainers for this week’s final. The FINAL. THE BIGGEST GAME OF HIS CAREER AND BRENTFORD’S HISTORY. TRAINERS. POTENTIALLY FROM HOUNSLOW SPORTS DIRECT. Big energy, that.
I like it; I’m all for dressing down. But when it comes to football managers, what’s the point? It can’t be a case of genuine indifference toward clothing, because in this context, to not dress like a PE teacher/bank manager etc is making more of a statement, isn’t it? And similarly, I’m all for making statements, but with the pundits and fans being so draconian in their views – “he should stop getting haircuts and focus on his game!” – it must attract more ire than if they just wore a suit, no?
Zinedine Zidane – arguably the greatest footballer of all time, now in charge at Real Madrid – typically wears a plain black suit, white shirt and black tie, and a pair of leather cup sole trainers. Why that combo? If it’s just a comfort thing then why not go full Pulis, the comfiest man in football? Why swap shoes for trainers, but keep the tie? And if it’s about looking youthful and hapsolutely terdally switched-on, then why wear the suit at all? Most pertinently, you’re Zinedine Zidane, you head-butted a man in the chest at the World Cup Final, why do you even care about such trivia? The mind boggles, but he has, at least, created a potential new archetype: the Commuting Financier.
Perhaps this burgeoning breed of touchline casuals speaks to a wider changing of perspective in football. Some players are showing that, unlike seemingly all the rest, they don’t toe the line on sleeve tattoos, Givenchy T-shirts and Amiri jeans, but do in fact have stylistic opinions of their own. Dominic Calvert-Lewin at Everton, for example, just posted a shot of himself to Instagram wearing a gloriously kitsch Casablanca co-ord. And his teammate (and fellow garm lord) Tom Davies is a proud advocate of Loewe, Prada Linea Rossa and blue velvet Gucci suits. Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín, a well-known fashionista, recently brokered the deal that saw LA brand 424 make the suits the team wear before matches.
A post shared by Thomas Davies (@1tomdavies) on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:31pm PST
If it is the case that managers are feeling emboldened to express their personal style, then that’s top news. Football is so rooted in outmoded ideas of ‘masculinity’ that it is almost impossible for players, staff and most fans to not just do, say and wear exactly what everyone else does. Who knows, Roy Hodgson could be big into heritage denim and Japanese mountain wear. Roy, if you’re reading this, and you love Snow Peak, then wear it, bub! You gotta do you.
To that end, I’d like to see Mikel Arteta push it a bit further, to be honest. Currently – and as an Arsenal fan, this in no way diminishes his stellar work as a coach – he does the casual thing, but it’s a little half-arsed. Mikel, maybe we could take that Milanese field jacket and switch it for an ACG fleece? It can be low-key, I promise. And I reckon a pair of Suicoke slides are even comfier than those nondescript leather tennis shoes. Boss, just imagine how baffled Jose Mourinho would be if you turned up to the next North London Derby in a leopard print Kapital cardi! Just ask Hector if you can borrow some clobber, yeah?
Earlier this year, when Freddie Ljungberg took over temporary charge of Arsenal (sorry to dwell on the mighty Gunners), Manchester United legend Paul Scholes said that he wouldn’t get the job on permanent basis because he didn’t treat his first game at the helm like a court appearance. "You would think he’d be out in a suit to show a bit of proudness that he took the job,” Scholesy remarked. “I don’t think he’ll be the right man.”
Ljungberg, who opted for a nice brown cable knit jumper, pale blue shirt and black trousers – admittedly the kind of thing a teenager might wear to a job interview at a garden centre – responded by saying, tongue firmly in his chiselled cheek, that it was indeed “extremely important” and that he would let everyone know what he was wearing from now on. Ljungberg didn’t get the job in the end, but it wasn’t because of the jumper; it was because Arsenal took six points from a possible 18 while he was boss. But would it have been different if he’d worn New Balance 327s and a Craig Green overshirt? We’ll never know.
(No, it wouldn’t.)
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