Amidst the drama and contrasting emotions of the final day of the Championship season, a curious antithesis between eventually promoted Hull City and play-off bound Watford became apparent. Of course, the two clubs could not be more different in a geographical sense - Watford is a well to do and relatively affluent satellite of the capital, whilst Hull, routinely voted the worst place to live in the country, has been cut adrift along with its key industry from the rest of the UK. These reputations, through some curious twist of fate, have found themselves mirrored in two cities' football clubs.
Watford have fuelled their promotion push with numerous high profile loans from Italian club Udinese, with whom they share owners, and their swashbuckling style has been realised under the stewardship of another Italian, Gianfranco Zola. This cultural cosmopolitanism is in stark contrast to Hull who, despite also being foreign-owned, are emblematic of a bygone era in English football, led by their bullish and decidedly old-school manager Steve Bruce.
Whether it's broadsheets waxing lyrical over the latest nuanced tactical innovation from Andre Villas-Boas or the tabloids bemoaning the influx of foreign managers diluting the potent mix of British blood sweat and tears that have made our iteration of the game unlike any other, there's no getting away from the media's impression that English football has undergone a seemingly irreparable sea change - and yet, more often than not it is these "relics" from an era long past yet still visible, as though they're cast in amber, who are coming up trumps against their more "modern" counterparts.
Hull's bettering of Watford is just the most recent example in a long list of England's top leagues of the old guard resisting their apparent evolutionary destiny. In last season's Premier League, whilst Roberto Mancini oversaw a largely-foreign powered Manchester City side win their maiden Premier League and Roberto Martínez once again confounded those two bugbears of mathematics and reason to guide Wigan to survival, almost all of the rest of the league remained resolutely British, with by far and away the most represented managerial hotbed being Glasgow, which bore no fewer than six of last season's gaffers. Without meaning any disrespect to Scotland's second city, it's not exactly in keeping with the media's portrayal of the modern manager.
Of course, it's not all about where you're from; last season's Swansea manager and current Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers may hail from a similarly unfashionable locale in the form of Northern Ireland, but he's carved out a reputation not dissimilar to Martínez or his successor Michael Laudrup. However, with Liverpool's faltering form oscillating between ebullient and sketchy, few are convinced that he is the man to reestablish Liverpool as England's top dog. Meanwhile, the likes of Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, and the inimitable Sir Alex Ferguson continue to hold their own.
So just why is the media so hell bent on feeding us their out with the old, in with the new mantra?
In his excellent book on life and football in Italy, A Season with Verona, Tim Parks postulates that the reason that play acting and diving are allowed to continue largely unabated thanks to antiquated and oxymoronic review systems is because, deep down, fans and pundits enjoy it. Without diving, or fouling, or dubious refereeing decisions, what becomes of the diametric in the game between right and wrong, good and bad? Just as with the extinction of the archetypal English tackling game, the media is obsessed with the loss of a truly English identity in the game, in terms of players, coaches, and ownership, purely for something to complain about.
The Premier League is not becoming a cosmopolitan metropolis in which the airs and graces of those from the home nations are considered too boorish. Nor are the lower leagues becoming a sort of Jurassic Park, an enclosure in which to view prehistoric relics of a bygone era. The British bulldog spirit, old fashioned grit, whatever you want to call it - is still very much alive and well.
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