On Saturday, someone behind me speculated loudly about what it would take for Pep Clotet to ‘go home’. While there was no overt malice, there’s an every day racism in the language he used. Among all the vitriol thrown at managers in football, nobody would ever talk about someone British needing to leave a club to ‘go home’.
It’s easy to de-humanise foreign managers and players as interlopers and charlatans. They only become valid, thinking, sentient people when we choose to validate them. And that only happens when they satisfy us. Otherwise, they come over here and get jobs because they dupe owners into employing them over more deserving English candidates, or so goes the narrative.
Amidst the muck and bullets of two grim battling victories there have been shoots of something good happening, and it’s not quite what anyone expected. Clotet’s appointment, we assumed, heralded a cosmopolitan revolution where we would sweep away all before us in a blizzard of pace, skill and technique. Summer football through an English winter.
But, Clotet has been dealt a tough hand – his predecessor was universally loved, he has lost the core of what the thought he was inheriting and he’s had less than one transfer window to re-dress the imbalance all that has caused.
But he’s never complained, he’s resolutely focused on his job. If you want to place a stereotypical national characteristics to it, Clotet has been Germanic in his appliance of learning from experience and British in his stoicism.
What has started to translate onto the pitch is a team willing, not to be dragged down by their circumstances, but to graft their way out of difficulties. People mocked Clotet for describing Dwight Tiendelli as ‘the least disruptive option’ to replace Ricardinho. It was a funny phrasing, but that’s exactly what was needed. And in Tiendelli he knows he has a player with the experience, attitude and ability to be the least disruptive option. To work for the team, not himself.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the results have rarely been pretty, but they have been effective. People talk about our reliance on Simon Eastwood, but let’s not forget that he was our player of the season last year, meaning he was hardly a redundant onlooker . So, although we might look shaky defensively, we weren’t exactly rock solid last. Above all, however, last year we were accused of being bullied out of points. What has come out of the last couple of weeks, is a willingness to fight. In short, Pep Clotet is demonstrating more typically English qualities than his English predecessor. Rather than send him back to where he came from, it might be that England is where he is most at home.
Fans have grumbled about it not being like the last couple of seasons. What has been sacrificed is not the results, but the aesthetics of Michael Appleton’s football. The passing is not as slick, and in some cases it’s been below standard, what the flare has been replaced with may not be as pleasing on the eye, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that it’s not without merit.