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Authors: Philip Kerr

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False Nine

BOOK: False Nine
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About
False Nine

About Philip Kerr

Reviews

About the Scott Manson series

Also by Philip Kerr

Table of Contents

    
    

www.headofzeus.com

To read this book as the author intended – and for a fuller reading experience – turn on ‘original’ or ‘publisher’s font’ in your text display options.

The term ‘false 9’ refers to a player playing in a lone-striker position who drops deep to search for the ball. The intention is to draw opposing central defenders with him and create a diversion for team-mates to move into space behind the defensive line and exploit chances to score.

Kieran Robinson

1

Whenever I want to feel better about life I go on Twitter and read some of the tweets about myself. I always come away from this experience with a strong feeling about the true sporting character and essential fairness of the great British public.

You’re a useless bastard, Manson. The best thing you ever did was resign from this football club. #Cityincrisis
Did you really resign Manson? Or were you sacked like every other overpaid cunt in football management? #Cityincrisis
You left us in the lurch, Manson. If you hadn’t quit we wouldn’t have that stupid bastard Kolchak in charge and we might not be 4th from bottom. #Cityincrisis
Come back to the Crown of Thorns, Scott. Mourinho did it. Why can’t you? All is forgiven. #Cityincrisis
I suppose you think that what you said about Chelsea on @BBCMOTD was clever, you stupid black cunt. You make Colin Murray look good.
Most @BBCMOTD pundits are the walking dead. But if Darryl Dixon ever needed to put a crossbow bolt in a someone’s eye, it’s yours.
Just because you’ve been on the cover of GQ doesn’t mean you’re not a black bastard, Manson. You’re just a black bastard in a nice suit.
We miss you, Scott. The football is rubbish since you left. Kolchak hasn’t a fucking clue. #Cityincrisis
When are you going to explain why you quit City, Manson? Your continued silence about this is damaging the club. #Cityincrisis

I’m only on Twitter because my publisher thought it would help to sell more copies of my book before Christmas. There’s a new edition out in paperback with an extra chapter about my short reign at London City. Not that it says very much. I’d already signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owner, Viktor Sokolnikov, which forbids me from saying why I left the club, and mostly it’s to do with the death of Bekim Develi. Or at least as much as I can say about that. The new chapter had to be read by Viktor’s lawyers, of course. Frankly, it’s really not worth the paper it’s written on and all the tweets in the world aren’t going to alter that fact.

I’m not a fan of social media. I think that we’d all be a lot better off if every tweet cost five pence, or you had to put a postage stamp on it before you sent it. Something like that. Most people’s opinions aren’t worth shit, mine included. And that’s just the reasonable ones. It goes without saying that there’s a lot of hate on Twitter and a great deal of that hate is to do with football. Part of me isn’t surprised. Back in 1992 when a programme cost a quid and a seat no more than a tenner, I expect people were a bit more forgiving about football-related matters. But these days with a ticket at a top club like Man U costing six or seven times as much, you can forgive the fans for expecting a bit more from their team. Well, almost.

The funny thing is that while I never pay a lot of attention to the nice things people tweet about me, I can’t help but pay attention to the insults and abuse I get. I try not to but it’s hard, you know? To that extent, Twitter is a little like air travel: you don’t pay it much attention when it’s going well, but you can’t help but pay attention when it’s going badly. It’s curious but there’s a small part of me that thinks there’s an element of truth to the unpleasant tweets. Like this one:

If you were any good, Manson, you’d be at another club by now. But for the death of Joao Zarco you’d still be picking up cones.

And this one:

Deep down, you always knew that the boots you were wearing were much too big for you. That’s why you fell, you stupid fuck. #Cityincrisis

Then again, just occasionally you read something that seems to have something interesting to say about the game itself.

You never understood that the purpose of passing is not to move the ball but to find the free man.

And perhaps, this one, too:

The trouble with English football is everyone thinks he’s Stanley Matthews. Don’t dribble the ball, run with it; run to provoke.

For anyone who calls himself a football manager, being unemployed is probably your default position. Losing your job – or leaving it because you find it’s just untenable – is as inevitable as scoring a few own goals if you’re a good number four. As Plato once said, shit just happens. It’s always painful to leave a football club you’ve been managing but the high rewards for success mean there are also high risks for failure. It’s the same with investment; whenever I see my financial advisor for lunch he always reminds me of the five levels of risk appetite. These are: Averse, Minimal, Cautious, Open and Hungry. As an investor I would describe myself as cautious, with a preference for safe options that have a low degree of risk and may only have a limited potential for reward. But football is very different. Football is all about the last level: if you’re not risk-hungry you’ve no business being a manager. Anyone who doubts that should look at the colour of Mourinho’s hair or check the lines on the faces of Arsène Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini. Frankly, it’s only when you’ve lost your job that you can truly say you’ve made your bones as a manager. But let’s face it, today’s managerial pariah can quickly turn into tomorrow’s messiah. Brian Clough is the best example of a manager who failed badly at one club only to succeed spectacularly at his next. It’s tempting to imagine that Leeds United might have won two European Cups, back to back, if only they’d kept faith with Clough. In fact I’m sure of it.

Even so, it’s hard being out of football management. It wasn’t so hard during the summer, but now that the season is well under way I just want to be on the training ground with a team – even if I am just picking up the cones. I miss the game a lot. I miss the lads at London City even more. Sometimes I miss the team so much I feel physically sick. Right now I feel ill-defined as a person. Like I have no meaning. Etiolated. Which is a good word for what it’s like to be an unemployed manager: it means someone who’s lost their vigour or substance, and it also means pale and drawn-out due to a lack of light. That’s exactly how I feel: etiolated. Just don’t use a word like that on
MOTD
or they’ll never ask you back. I can just imagine the tweets I’d get about using a word like that.

The fact is that you’re only a manager when you’re managing, as Harry Redknapp might say. When you’re not doing it – when you’re appearing as a pundit on
MOTD
, or a guest on
A Question of Sport
– you’re what, exactly? I’m not sure that I’m anything at all. But here’s another tweet that puts it very well, I think:

Now that you’ve left City, Manson, you’re going to find out that you’re just another cunt in football.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m just another cunt in football. It’s worse than being an actor who’s working as a waiter because no one knows when you’re a ‘resting’ actor. But when you’re a manager who’s out of work the world and his fucking dog seem to know about it. Like the bloke who sat beside me on the plane to Edinburgh this morning.

‘I’m sure you’ll find another job in management soon,’ he said, encouragingly. ‘When David Moyes was sacked from United I knew that it wouldn’t be long before he was back at a top club. It’ll be the same for you, mark my words.’

‘I wasn’t sacked. I resigned.’

‘Every year it’s the same old game of musical chairs. You know, Scott, I think people should bear in mind that it takes time for a manager to turn things around when a club is not doing well. But if you give a manager that time, then quite often he’ll prove his gainsayers wrong. Nine times out of ten, the manager’s just the scapegoat. It’s the same in business. Take Marks & Spencer. How many CEOs has Marks & Spencer had since Sir Richard Greenbury left in 1999?’

‘I wouldn’t know.’

‘The problem there is not the manager, but the whole retail business model. The fact is that people don’t want to buy their clothes where they buy their sandwiches. Am I right, or am I right?’

Looking at my travelling companion’s clothes I wasn’t too sure about that. In his brown suit and salmon pink shirt he looked exactly like a prawn sandwich but I nodded politely and hoped for a moment when I might get back to reading Roy Keane’s riveting book on my Kindle. It never came and I got off the plane wishing I’d thought to wear a cap and a pair of glasses, like Ian Wright. I don’t need glasses. And I don’t like caps. But I like chatting about football with strangers even less. Looking like a cunt is a lot better than spending a whole flight talking to one.

It was very strange being back in Edinburgh after so many years away. I ought to have felt more at home here – after all, it was the place where I’d done the larger part of my growing up – but I didn’t. I couldn’t have felt more alien or out of place. It wasn’t just the past that made Scotland seem like a foreign country to me. Nor was it much to do with the recent referendum. I hadn’t shared the Scots’ dislike of the English as a boy and I certainly didn’t share it now, especially since I’d chosen to make my home in London. No, there was something else that made me feel separate, something much more personal. The truth was I’d never really been permitted to feel like a proper Scot on account of the colour of my skin. All of the kids in my class at school had been freckle-faced, green-eyed Celts. Me, I was half black – or, as the Scots used to describe me, ‘a half-caste’ – which was why I’d been nicknamed Rastus. Even my Edinburgh schoolmasters had called me Rastus and although I wouldn’t ever have shown it, this hurt. A lot. And it had always struck me as amusing that the minute I arrived at a school in England – with a Scots accent long since scraped off the bottom of my shoe – my nickname should have become Jock. Not that the boys of Northampton School for Boys weren’t racist, too, but they were a lot less racist than their Scottish counterparts.

I’m lucky in that I have a seat on the board of my dad’s company to fall back on, but that certainly didn’t stop me from putting myself around a bit to see what was out there. My agent, Tempest O’Brien, was firmly of the opinion that it was important for me to see as many people as possible.

‘It’s not just your achievements that make you eminently employable,’ she’d told me, ‘it’s you, the whole
GQ
package. You’re one of the most articulate and intelligent men I know, Scott. Christ, I nearly said in football, but that’s not saying much, is it? Besides, I think it’s crucial that people see you’re not just sitting back and living off your earnings – which according to the newspapers are substantial – as a director of Pedila Sports. So it’s important you play that down. If people think you don’t need to work then they’ll try to buy you cheap. So the first place I’m going to send you is Edinburgh. There’s a job going at Hibs. No one is going to try and buy you cheaper than a side in the Scottish Championship. I know your father was a Hearts man through and through but you should go and talk to them because it’s a good place to start. Better that you should make your mistakes and hone your interview skills there where it won’t matter than somewhere more important where it will, like Nice, or Shanghai.’

‘Shanghai? Why the hell would I go to Shanghai?’

‘Did you see
Skyfall
? The Bond movie? Shanghai is one of the most futuristic cities in the world. And the place is just rolling in money. It might be good experience for you to work there. Especially if they start buying football clubs in Europe. And the rumour is they’re looking to do just that. The Chinese are a can-do people, Scott. Can do and will do, probably. When the Russians get tired of owning clubs or when the rouble finally collapses and they have to sell out, who are they going to sell to? The Chinese, of course. Within twenty years the Chinese are going to be the world’s number one economic superpower. And when China rules the world, the capital of that world is going to be Shanghai. They started building a new tram in December 2007, and it was open less than two years later. Contrast that with Edinburgh’s tram. How long did that take? Seven years? A billion quid spent on it and still they’re bitching about fucking independence.’

BOOK: False Nine
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