The two coaches in last night's epic Champions League semi-final are proof of how far football managers' style has come.
Football fans’ chants generally betray a good deal of deep-seated male insecurity. When José Mourinho first took his Chelsea team up to play Manchester City in 2004, he was greeted with a raucous fashion critique from unreconstructed Kippax Enders: “That coat’s from Matalan!” they sang.
The City fans may have been seeking to mock their Portuguese rival’s flaunted vanity, the undeniable swagger of his Armani, but as they held on tight to their giant inflatable banana mascots, you couldn’t help feeling they might have been revealing more of their secret anxieties than they imagined.
Football managers have long been required to be alpha males, with greater demonstrable testosterone, even in middle age, than the boyish ball-players in their charge. Manchester City, with Stuart Pearce in their dugout at that time, could hardly be accused of falling short in that department, but the appointment of Mourinho clearly undermined all those assumptions.
With his metrosexual tailoring and postmodern press conferences, plus his effortless facility in umpteen languages, the Chelsea boss seemed to be demonstrating a whole new approach to gender domination. For all their scorn, he no doubt caused some of the more entrenched pie-eaters to privately question their own wardrobes, in which the idea of adopting this season’s colour trends had hitherto meant a new variation on the black and red stripes of City’s latest away kit.
You could begin to argue that the arrival of Mourinho’s coat — which later raised £22,000 at a charity auction — marked a turning point in the national microcosm that is the Premier League.
The always immaculate Jose Mourinho (left), and the doyen of slim-fit, Barcelona's Pep Guardiola
There had been stylish incursions before — Ruud Gullitt, Gianluca Vialli, Arsene Wenger even — but Mourinho’s single-breasted cashmere statement was the moment when we realised that old-fashioned British virtues of apoplectic anger, sergeant-majorish invective and do-as-I-say paternalism might not be the only ways to motivate disparate young millionaires to maximum effort.
Mourinho earned the respect of his players, and also that of the sartorial misfits of the media, not by shouting loudest, but through virtue of his taste. Whereas former coaching greats might have been able to show their cups and medals to the squad, Mourinho clearly possessed the experience that players now prized most: he knew how to shop.
There was a time when style in managerial terms didn’t go far beyond a muted approximation of Malcolm Allison’s Seventies’ pimp look. By such standards, Ron Atkinson was for a decade or two as close as the old First Division came to a style-icon manager.
Even he had an inkling, however, that a more understated élan might represent the future. I once asked Atkinson which player, given the choice, he would most have liked to be.
He thought for a moment, recalling his days bossing the Oxford United midfield in the Southern League, and came up with a definitive answer: Pep Guardiola, he said. Guardiola was at that time imposing his hard-edged grace on the Barcelona engine room, but the admission seems to me, looking back, clear evidence that even Big Ron knew which way the wind was blowing.
He was not alone. When Catalan club chairman Joan Laporta promoted the 37-year-old Guardiola to the Barcelona manager’s job, he sided with Atkinson, admitting: “If I was reincarnated I’d like to come back as Pep Guardiola.”
Roberto Mancini is never without that scarf, while Andres Villas-Boas made his trenchcoat a trademark in his brief time at Chelsea
When football chairmen in the past noted they “liked the cut of the new man’s jib” they could be assumed to be making reference to a psychotic personality disorder or extreme parsimony they believed would best preserve their investment. In Guardiola’s case, a more literal interpretation would be necessary. In his twenties, he modelled for the Catalan suitmaker Antonio Miró, and this experience, as much as his ability to spot a pass, seemed to single him out as the perfect modern motivator.
When Barcelona first made Manchester United look like tailors’ dummies in the 2009 Champions League final, the following day’s messageboards were alive not just with talk of Messi and Iniesta, but also the way Guardiola’s suit stayed sharp even when he was chucked in the air and drenched in champagne. The made-to-measure passing of the Barca midfield seemed to derive precisely from the bespoke lines of the gaffer’s outfit.
Any self-respecting billionaire with designs on Barca’s crown has subsequently had to think first about their main man’s wardrobe, it appears. Real Madrid, with most to lose from Guardiola’s ascendancy, sent for Mourinho in his more stubbly and brooding current incarnation.
Roman Abramovich was seduced by the only contemporary figure with slimmer fitting potential than the Barcelona man: André Villas-Boas. It has been instructive to see how, in his stuttering start to this season, the Chelsea manager has been afforded the kind of slack in media coverage that would never have been extended to a Tony Pulis or a David Moyes, in duvet jacket or club blazer; due, in large part, you can’t help but feel, to the elegance of AVB’s couture. And at the other end of the table, Wigan’s Roberto Martinez has become a pundit’s favourite, apparently for the same reasons.
It is in Manchester, however, where the coat first generated such notice, that the style revolution has been felt most keenly. Sir Alex Ferguson, forever alive to reinvention, has been moved, perhaps by his latest nemesis Guardiola’s example, to retire his team puffa jacket and adopt a black zip-neck and overcoat combo that nods toward the continental intellectual style of Sartre or Beckett.He has, however, even in this, been given much to think about by his loaded counterpart at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Roberto Mancini’s loosely knotted retro City scarf looked an embarrassing affectation to begin with (the Mario Balotelli of knitwear), but lately it has, like the pyrotechnic striker, come to appear as a masterstroke. City fans need no longer cling to their bananas for identity; they should look no further than the Italian’s designer muffler.
It might be a step too far for the “Citeh” faithful to also adopt the manager’s Milanese coiffure, but this may well be the season when the symbolic qualities of Mancini’s blow-dry will finally eclipse the one-man hairdryer still occupying the Old Trafford dressing room.
Words by Tim Adams