Culture

What next for “Project Football” – “Thinking out of the box”?

Bill Shankly said football was a simple game complicated by idiots – he was not wrong. He never needed to call his time at Liverpool a project.

Anyone who works in the corporate world will know that if you get shifted to “special projects”, it’s not a good sign. It means your employer either doesn’t want you or doesn’t know what to do with you. The very word “project” implies short-termism – you are not going to be around for long.

So, when football managers start to talk about “interesting project”, I guess it’s not an inappropriate term for a manager’s job. There’s one thing certain in football – managers come and go and their tenure doesn’t last forever. People like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are unusual.

But what’s happened recently is that managers are adopting this new turn of phrase to describe potential jobs. For the type of manager who wields a notepad and pen or even a clipboard, this new “speak” is not entirely unexpected.

Andre Villas-Boas brought it to the English game during his ill-fated short reign at Chelsea. His Stamford Bridge soujorn became the football equivalent of the British sci-fi classic – “The Quite a mess project”. [Apologies to Quatermass]

But now even run-through-brick-wall  characters like Steve Bruce are using this terminology. Rafa Benitez, too, said he was “open to these kinds of projects and have to analyse every offer” when considering the Chelsea job. AVB’s agent – who may just have been the instigator of this nonsense, described the Liverpool job as “an interesting project”. And in Spain, following the tragic death of Villareal manager Manuel Preciado, Villarel said the 54 year-old had “been chosen to lead next season’s project.” Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay, explaining his decision to remain with the Asian-Welsh club, said: “I started a long-term project and want to stay”. They’re all at it.

Since when did football clubs become projects? Back in 1905, did Chelsea’s founders look upon the creation of a new West London club as a “project”. I doubt the word, in that form, existed then! More and more clubs are becoming tagged with this label. Put simply, it is a declaration from an investor, be it an oil magnate, chicken farmer, Icelandic financier or sportswear firm, that they are coming in to fast-track (another nice phrase from the corporate world) the rise of a club. The project hints that it won’t last forever. In other words, if it doesn’t work out, we’re off. Or we’ll change the club colours.

But football clubs have, in effect, been embroiled in projects in the past, but they were called “five-year plans”. Now this sounds all very Chairman Mao, but it never hurt anyone to have ambition or a target for achieving that goal. But five years is a long-time in the life of a football manager. Who lasts five years and what rich benefactor will wait that amount of time for success? Some managers get fired after one barren year.

Projects are here to stay, but let’s hope we don’t start to see other phrases from the MBA school of waffle coming into the game. Don’t forget we live in a world of bullshit where “operatives” have replaced “workers” and “logistics” is used to describe virtually everything from cleaning to office administration. How long before Brendan Rodgers says Liverpool are aiming for “long hanging fruit” or that Roberto Di Matteo asks for his team to adopt “blue sky thinking” or even, more appropriately, to “think outside the box”. And perhaps Roy Hodgson, who seems like a straight-talking kind of guy, may look for a “force multiplier” or two…..

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