Where to draw the line on touchline behaviour

Everybody remembers the moment when José Mourinho charged up the Old Trafford touchline in celebration as Benni McCarthy headed FC Porto to a famous 2003/04 Champions League away victory over Manchester United. More recently who can forget Jurgen Klopp joining his players after watching his Liverpool score with seconds remaining to beat Norwich City 5-4 in January 2016 and consequently losing his glasses in the process. And as his former Borussia Dortmund counterpart David Wagner mirrored his masters touchline passion by running onto the pitch to celebrate Huddersfield Town’s late winner in a fiercely contested local derby against, cross-county and Championship promotion rivals Leeds United, the scenes that followed however do pose the question of where touchline passion should be curbed and both when it is and isn’t right to let your emotions get the better of you.

Emotion seems to be an incredibly undervalued aspect to the modern game with more and more emotional managers each season. Whilst the likes of Antonio Conté, Diego Simeone and Jurgen Klopp lead the way when it’s come to visible outcries of emotion whether it be positive or negative, given that so much now rides on the outcome of a game which can be often decided through missed clear-cut goalscoring opportunities or penalties that should or should not have been given, managers are being driven to increasingly express their emotion and their expression of such work on often leads to repercussions after the dust has settled and the anger or jubilation has died off.

Take last season for example – a normally lifeless Louis van Gaal threw himself to the floor in perhaps one of the most bizarre and energetic demonstrations of his frustration throughout all of his Manchester United career. Soon followed the many memes and the many photoshop mock-up images which have become commonplace when anything happens with managers on the touchline and what may have been merely a gripe with LVG soon bubbled over and became much more than he would have wanted it to. Besides ranging from Sam Allardyce’s public display of laughter at Swansea City’s Chico Flores some seasons ago to Alan Pardew’s premature victory dance during Crystal Palace’s FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United last season, nowadays with so many watching eyes on football managers you certainly can’t get away with anything when it comes to emotion on the touchline; show your passion at your own peril.

In the same way that we are able to differentiate between different players and referees from game to game, some managers are clearly much more animated than others. The Pep Guardiola’s, Unai Emery’s and Marcelo Bielsa’s of modern football make for good entertainment – throwing themselves around at the drop of a hat in frustration after their side disappoint their manager, in desperation as they try to rally their club’s supporters to raise their voices and support the club vocally, as well as in both jubilation as they join their fans to celebrate and commiseration to lament lows of being a top-flight manager. Not only do such managers often bring success in managing through the use of emotion but in terms of entertainment value and marketability, a manager that mirrors the happiness of the club’s fans in the stands but on the touchline of the pitch certainly fares much better with a club’s fans base than perhaps one who even in the most dramatic of times show very little in terms of emotion.

As true emotion often comes naturally, how can a club’s manager continue to sit quietly after a late winning goal, after conceding several early goals or following an undeserved refereeing decision that goes against your side – in which case you often wonder whether the desire to manage said club was ever there in the first place? However acting and managing your team extravagantly through the use of emotion is one thing when nobody gets hurt but just as our own personal emotions can be incredibly flippant one from moment to the next, with one managers scenes of celebration as if you’ve just won the World Cup when in fact you’ve only rescued a point in a fairly insignificant league match, there stands another manager and set of players and what then happens next can show the good, the bad and sometimes ugly side of modern football.

Looking specifically at two separate examples in the last two weeks from the top two divisions in English football: two professional managers and two very different emotional incidents but one set of unsavoury scenes that consequently followed in both matches. Firstly no stranger to a suspension during his time in English football as Arsenal manager, the usually calm and composed Arsene Wenger demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to let your emotions get the better of you after aggressively pushing fourth official Anthony Taylor and earning himself a four match ban on the process as Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1 in January of this year. Similarly whilst any repercussions remain unknown at this time of writing, Leeds United manager Garry Monk’s clash with Terriers boss David Wagner left fans of both clubs with a bitter taste as an avalanche of unsavoury fisticuffs followed what was a well-contested and old fashioned Yorkshire Derby between both clubs.

Evidently in both examples, expressing how you truly feel in the heat of the moment may have its perks in terms of its appeal to your own club’s base (as in the case with Monk and Wagner) but for the good of the wider game itself, it most certainly doesn’t reflect well on top flight and the managerial conduct we have come to expect from the biggest bosses in the sport. And as each manager acknowledged their individual wrongdoings across both incidents, you have to ask whether they will truly learn from their mistakes and ensure it doesn’t happen again or whether they have the capacity to contain their emotion during the highest and lowest of moments in football. Likewise integrity, humility and respect may desirable in a manager but so is passion, enthusiasm and a true affiliation with a team and its supporters however finding the right balance is vital if managers are to lead by example as model students of the game as many fans perceive them to be.

You need look no further than Manchester United boss José Mourinho, the man who perhaps set the modern-day trend for managers to build a rapport with a club’s supporters through a public show of emotion on the sidelines, who has notably curtailed his outlandish comments and touchline behaviour for the sake of his teams performances this season. After racking up over £200,000 in fines since his return to the Premier League in 2013 and with his fare share of flashpoints this season after kicking out at water-bottle’s on the sidelines to being sent to the stands alongside his contentious comments about match officials, we are beginning to see a much more calm and composed Jose Mourinho – as much as he may dislike it!

Admittedly tension can boil over both on and off the pitch with unpleasant scenes in the stands at the West Ham United’s new London Stadium reminiscent of those that followed Spurs and Chelsea’s grudge match at the end of the previous season. However nipping them in the bud is key so that the football remains what’s important – not the fracas between club officials and supporters. However enforcing rules and regulations with regards to touchline behaviour, especially when it comes to managers and club officials is and has perhaps always been difficult for the Football Association to authorise.

When does passion stop being passion? Should there be fixed penalties that managers are made aware of should their actions produce an aftermath which isn’t good for the image and wider appeal of the English game? Should manager’s, substitutes, club officials and even the players on the pitch be put off by expressing their true emotion? The unknown to all of the preceding questions and more is what makes finding the right balance in football between being either passionate or humble in defeat all the more challenging. However if events in recent seasons are anything to go by, public expressions of exuberance on the touchline will continue to occur even with restrictions enforced by the Football Association and there is no simple answer of where to draw the line on the touchline.


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