Cultural differences haunt the ‘foreign’ manager in the Premier League

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Maybe the greatest trick Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa ever pulled was not persuading the world he is a maverick innovator, but rather convincing us he can’t speak English.

The most defensive tactic he has employed this season has been sticking with his Colombian translator Andrés
Clavijo, whose very presence alongside El Loco allows the Argentine maestro to appear too cuddly and professorly to be hurt with nasty questions.

Even Clavijo has the soft demeanour of a man just pulled in off the street to help his uncle out. When the time comes for Bielsa to bid adios to Elland Road, it would be quite something if he chose that moment to address the media in an accent pulled straight from the Woolpack in Emmerdale: “Nought more I can do with this pile a muck, lads.”

Bielsa may well be right not to invest too much time in trying to learn a language whose value may not extend beyond tomorrow. Maybe he watched as his fellow outsiders Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta have been mocked for their efforts; the formers linguistic affectations during Emery’s time at Arsenal drew some good old-fashioned Fawlty Towers stereotyping from commentators, while Arteta’s multi-linguism was deemed problematic by BT Sports’ Martin Keown, who summed up his misgivings thus: “Arteta talks in four or five different languages. That would worry me because I’d like to hear some of it in English if I was an English player. Wenger said ‘one language, a common language’. Nonetheless, he’s a fantastic communicator and he’s getting that message across. And when you do talk a lot, as I am now, you gotta get results because people stop listening.”

Stop listening, he says. In this instance, Keown proved he too needed a translator.

The descent of the foreign manager into madness will always draw more I-told-ya-sos than that of a local lad.

Jurgen Klopp’s much-publicised dismantling of journalist Niv Dovrat’s rather innocuous question last Sunday was deemed by many as a sign that Klopp was finally losing it, that the Premier League (or “our league” as Graeme Souness patriotically refers to it) had finally caught up to the German, a man who for so long could do no wrong in the eyes of much of the British media.

Much of the respect he has enjoyed has been earned; his willingness to engage honestly and openly on almost any topic, related to sports or not, should ensure he has enough credit in the goodwill bank to forgive his admittedly petulant treatment of Dovrat.

Klopp is not without sin; his record in this regard points to a man passionately engaged in everything he does. There will be bad days. That it later emerged Klopp’s mother had recently passed away is nearly as irrelevant as it is genuinely sad for him. He should be allowed off-days without needing such a worthy excuse.

Sean Dyche, on the other hand, is living his best life. As Klopp was ‘descending into madness’, Dyche, the affable Englishman, had them rolling in the aisles engaging all-comers with anecdotes of holiday games with the kids.

If you’ve seen the footage you will likely never want to hear the phrase “looky-likey” ever uttered again. Dyche’s banter, and the laughter it elicited, was reminiscent of a musician on stage, filling time between songs with idle nonsense, and being rewarded with hysterical wails of devotion. Dyche, to his credit, was just trying to relate to his audience. You’d wonder what Bill Belichick would make of it all.

Which brings us to Ted Lasso, an American sitcom developed by Apple TV+, for no discernible good reason. I really don’t know what to say. Watching this show, about a small-time American college football coach — Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis — who is plucked from obscurity to manage in the Premier League, is to perhaps understand why so many fans of the sport in England are so suspicious and unforgiving of foreigners.

Watching American sitcom ‘Ted Lasso’ starring Jason Sudeikis is to perhaps understand why so many fans of English football are so suspicious and unforgiving of foreigners.

Watching American sitcom ‘Ted Lasso’ starring Jason Sudeikis is to perhaps understand why so many fans of English football are so suspicious and unforgiving of foreigners.

Conversely, this show may do more for Anglo-Irish relations at this very difficult time in our history than the Clintons ever did. Finally, British people may understand what it is to fall victim to lazy American stereotyping; and not the cute, Love Actually type.

No, this fish-out-of-water story hits the back stanchion more than once by laying bare an American view of England and its sporting life.

How does it work? Well, Ted gets hired in an act of corporate revenge, by the owner of AFC Richmond, who is a woman scorned. The idea being the new coach will sink the club (had she never heard of Tim Sherwood?)

Ted doesn’t know the offside rule. His captain is a monosyllabic hardman (Roy Kent!), his star man is an overindulged brainless twat, whose girlfriend is a WAG, but one with moxy.

The token African player in the dressing room is a simple, humble chap, who just misses home. The kit man becomes Coach Lasso’s tactical consigliere.

Ted’s grasp of English is about as good as Marco Bielsa’s. There are jokes aplenty about tea versus coffee, four quarters versus halves, ties and draws; cultural misunderstandings that may be forgivable — or funny — if the show’s premise centred around an alien who arrived in London and took over a football manager’s body, and not an American football coach a long way from Kansas.

Yes, what I am saying is that both the Princess Switch movies on Netflix have more credibility than Ted Lasso, both in plot and representation of foreign cultures (to my knowledge, the subjects of the respective kingdoms of Belgravia and Montenaro were happy with how those movies represented them). Needless to say, Ted Lasso is a huge hit in the US. Its star, Sudeikis, is undeniably charming as the gormless, inoffensive Lasso, but watching him repeat the same gag over and over, you’d long for a Klopp outburst. Or a Pep stare. Hell, you’d even yearn for a Sean Dyche “looky likey” anecdote.

Maybe Ted Lasso’s legacy will be teaching us the lesson that sometimes real life is far more enjoyable than the movies. In sport at least.

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