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The rules are: there are no rules. When it comes to how a football manager should dress, anything goes.
So often it is individual sports where the banter is best and following the drama most cathartic. Sport rarely gets as engrossing as when two tennis stars argue over where the ball landed, or when boxers call each other out in interviews, seemingly out of nowhere.
Life as a football manager, I’m told, is in essence very similar. It has become just as much a game of ego, of dogma, of character. Head coaches have character in abundance, and one way they show that is through their attire. You see, what a football manager wears says a huge amount about them as a person and about their probable favored style of play.
Although Arsene Wenger (pictured) often resembled a chrysalis in the winter by wearing a puffer coat the size of a small restaurant, he was better known for wearing a suit. This, I think it’s fair to say, is the most popular managers’ dress choice.
Wenger was an economist before he was a football manager. He was always a deep thinker, became a deep thinker of the game as a way of focusing that philosophical outlook, and was one of the first elite-level managers to properly embrace sports science within his club. The suit suited his character. He resembled a highly esteemed diplomat gradually phasing his career out in old age.
In the same way, it suited Sir Alex Ferguson in his later years, as did his smart overcoat. Ferguson is the greatest football manager in the history of the sport and commanded respect even from his most ardent detractors. The suit was perfectly on trend.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is not deified in quite the same way as Ferguson. This feels so self-evident it barely deserves mention. However, his emotional intellect and statesperson-like tact with words ensured the waistcoat he donned at the 2018 World Cup earned immediate cult status. It helped that England were on a roll, but so was Southgate—a compassionate listener rather than a boisterous leader. School teacher vibes? Perhaps that’s why a suit or a waistcoat looks so appropriate on him.
We may require a winner in the suit category (I wouldn’t know, I don’t make the rules on football culture). If we do, then it’s Diego Simeone, hands down. A fully black suit, complete with a black tie, donned by the manager who inflicts upon viewers such deathly defensive football at Atlético Madrid that it almost beckons entertainment junkies to organize the funeral of football. That villain trope is accentuated to an almost satirical level.
Hung up at the other end of the managerial wardrobe is the humble club tracksuit. Except it’s almost a little too humble. That’s almost precisely the problem.
A head coach is not the same as a first-team coach. This is the essence of why the tracksuit, though a popular choice, is not the most sensible dress wear for a manager. As well as taking the lead in training and determining what tactics to adopt, the manager must also distance himself from his players. He is not their friend. He is their boss, and he calls the shots.
However much Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce might feel like a member of the lads, come on gents. You’ve had your playing days. They can wear what they like, but surely they don’t like baggy trackies with their club crest splattered all over them. There’s very little class about that.
But what can have a whole lot of class is a manager who dresses in the vaguely large semi-category “smart casual.” Like “dating” or “biscuit,” no one’s ever quite sure what it means. Some managers do it perfectly, and others give off the accidental message: “I’m in charge… but I’m also a Boohoo Man model.”
For success, see the open collar and olive skin of former Ivory Coast, Lille and Morocco manager Herve Renard. For failure, see ex-Fulham and -Bournemouth boss Scott Parker, whose ghastly cardigans suggest he’s putting conscious effort into imitating your grandfather.
Football’s best-dressed manager is Gareth Ainsworth of Wycombe Wanderers. He looks like a ‘60s tribute act-cum-cowboy. His clothing wouldn’t suit anyone else, but that surely means he’s won, right? The trump card.
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