Football: The Reality Is. . . Perception Is All in the World of Football; POST MODERN

Article excerpt

Byline: Hyder Jawad

Martin Jol has an advantage over every other Premier League manager: there is more of him. He is larger than his contemporaries and attracts publicity at a rate out of proportion with his job performance. As the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, he flirts with the sack every minute of every day and has the craggy features to prove it.

In one key respect, he is the opposite of Martin O'Neill, who would not be close to the sack even if he turned up for one of his matches wearing comedy breasts and a blonde wig and tried to pass himself off as the half-time entertainment. As the manager of Aston Villa, O'Neill flirts with positive attention every minute of every day and has the bewildered expression to prove it.

These two men are creations of the game and are evidence that, in football as in politics, perception is everything.

If it was just about facts, Jol would be on safer ground. Since he took over as manager of Tottenham in November 2004, he has averaged the equivalent of 1.65 points per match, which compares favourably with O'Neill's record of 1.38 points per match as manager of Villa. If it was just about the message, both managers would be fine because they articulate themselves in a manner that wins friends and influences people.

If it was just about the weight of expectations, again, there would be little difference because Tottenham and Villa are clubs of equal size and standing with supporters that have been patient for success that has, in recent years, been elusive. If it was just about talent, both men also score highly. They are widely regarded as being among the top 50 managers in Europe and consistently attract good players.

However, when Tottenham and Villa meet at White Hart Lane tonight, it will be Jol, that giant of a man, who will be walking the tight-rope. It is not just the sight of the Premier League table which shows Tottenham in the bottom three.

Jol has been under pressure since the opening day of the season when his team lost to Sunderland with a last-minute goal. Villa also lost on the opening day of the season but that did not make O'Neill's job any more difficult. The Villa fans loved him no less.

Perception is a big word in football. It is a big word in life. It can make a manager popular. It can give a manager the sack. It can fill a stadium. It can make supporters stay at home. It can destroy a political career. It can elect an inappropriate president. It can make a good guy seem like a bad guy. …