The Premier League's real managerial divide: Those granted control and those who must answer up high
Jose Mourinho was making mischief. "I think we are more the head coach than the manager," said the Manchester United manager (or head coach, in his own interpretation) after last month's win over Leicester City. As he often does, Mourinho was combining self-interest and self-obsession while making a wider point.
The role of the manager has been diminished by the rise of a structure, by the checks and balances on power supplied by chairmen and chief executives, directors of football and even players. Like many before him and surely many after, Mourinho enviously eyed the all-encompassing authority of Sir Alex Ferguson. Those granted it at a club -- and the Portuguese's inability to sign summer transfer targets in central defence and on the wing showed he was not -- are increasing rarities.
But they highlight one of the job's great divides. Managers are often split into two categories, sometimes simplistically -- British and foreign, young and old, attacking and defensive, short passing and long ball -- but a more meaningful gulf lies between those that are left alone to run a club and those who wish they were but are sometimes denied their wishes and whose frustrations become public knowledge.
In the former category are such different characters as Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes, Roberto Martinez, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp. The other bracket may include men such as Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Antonio Conte.
A common denominator is a willingness to criticise their employers, a preference to sign more players every year and a fondness for recruiting the aged. Each may define himself as a winner looking for the best way to secure trophies. Each may argue he is conditioned by a world where managers are rarely given a chance to build years into the future. Each may look at the former six and note that five of them are either strangers to silverware or have had long trophy droughts in their career; in that respect, as in many others, Ferguson is the great exception.
It could be called long-termism against short-termism, sustainability against immediate success. It is about the managers who can double up as both their own director of football -- displaying a faith in youth, showing their futuristic planning, is often one sign -- and their own chief executive against those who cannot. Those who can recognise that with power comes the responsibility to safeguard a club's future, the discipline to balance the books, the self-restraint not to sign all the players they admire seem to command more of their employers' trust.
Klopp's heavy spending this summer has generated plenty of attention, some of it courtesy of Mourinho, but it is notable he prefers not to sign when his preferred recruit is not available. Wenger took a search for value for money so far that, although treating Arsenal's funds like his own, at times the club had to force him to pay the asking price for players. Pochettino seems to be in Spurs' age of austerity; Ferguson and Wenger have been there.
Moyes negotiated 11 years at Everton with an annual net spend of £2.8 million. Martinez smilingly reduced Wigan's wage bill. Their characters ranged from the ever optimistic Spaniard to the ferocious Ferguson, from the exuberant, eccentric Klopp to the dourer Moyes, but they could all be called company men: Ferguson would never blame the Glazers, just as there has been no dissent from Pochettino about Spurs' failure to sign anyone this summer. They accepted the financial realities. They concentrated on the players they had, rather than those they did not.
Each has avoided spending every penny available with a disregard to the future consequences. They have not been guilty of financial incontinence in a way that certain former managers have. In general, they have taken care to avoid a ticking timebomb in the squad's age profile. It is why, although Mourinho also coveted younger players such as Harry Maguire this summer, it is understandable if United were reluctant to invest in 29- or 30-year-olds like Toby Alderweireld, Jerome Boateng, Willian and Ivan Perisic to join contemporaries, and Mourinho signings, like Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic.
The chances are that Mourinho, Conte, Mancini and another enemy with certain similarities in his approach, Rafa Benitez, believe that perfectionists have to push back at their employers in a bid to get the best. That they have to take confrontational management from the dressing room to the boardroom. Yet it may be why, apart from Benitez's six-year spell at Anfield, they have never lasted more than four seasons anywhere, a record that in turn encourages a short-termist approach.
Their antitheses can pursue a more consensual form of management, at least when managing upwards. They can seem anachronisms, those whose duties stretch far beyond the pitch and who become part of the fabric of a club, those who can be trusted to be both managers and businessmen. It irritates Mourinho that they tend to be judged by different parameters to him, especially when they are not winning trophies. But it is in part because they do a different job to him.