By Chris Dunlavy
BACK in 2006, Micky Adams was asked to describe Tony Pulis, then in his first stint as manager of Stoke City. “What I like about Tony is that he calls a spade a spade,” said Adams. “He doesn’t play games, he’s got no pretensions. He doesn’t manage to impress people, he manages to do the job.”
Not everybody appreciates this aspect of Pulis. Regular readers of The Secret Footballer will attest to that.
But, after the icy, robotic detachment of Garry Monk, a dose of straight talking is exactly what Middlesbrough fans crave.
Monk’s dismissal, just six months after his defection from Leeds United, resulted chiefly from a failure to turn Steve Gibson’s £50m summer outlay into an automatic promotion push. Boro’s struggles embarrassed a chairman who had bragged of “smashing” the Championship.
Throw poor performances and dressing room wrangles into the mix and the resulting soup was ranker than a Tesco turkey.
But exacerbating all these factors was Monk’s total – and deliberate – failure to communicate. Like a bad politician, he spouted the same handful of bland, corporate buzzwords over and over again.
He talked about the ‘group’ and the ‘project’. He blathered on about ‘positives’ even after wretched displays. Empty, meaningless, bull****. Ask about an individual and he’d refuse to engage. It was as if mentioning a Boro player would incur a £100,000 fine from the FA.
Then, of course, there were the almost comically anodyne tweets that sounded like they’d been knocked up by David Brent.
None of this was skillfully administered. The 37-year-old’s tactics were so transparent that Boro fans even branded him the Monkbot.
We know the rationale, of course. If you don’t carve a stick in the first place, nobody can beat you with it. But, like a politician, a balance must be struck between self-defence and self-promotion.
And, just as the Maybot suffered in June from a perceived lack of personality, so the safety-first Monkbot failed to build any kind of rapport with supporters.
Passion and honesty are the cornerstones of any manager-fan relationship.
Neil Warnock may infuriate opponents with his touchline rants and sly digs, but home fans never doubt his devotion to their cause.
At Cardiff, he has held several intimate talks in the Valleys.
Holed up in clubs and pubs, away from the Sky cameras, the 68-year-old answers questions freely and genuinely connects with what he calls the club’s ‘bread and butter’ supporters.
With his everyman banter and heart-on-sleeve interviews, Harry Redknapp was cut from similar cloth.
When the tough times come – and they always do – that relationship buys a manager patience and time. So, too, does seeing a manager hurt. Responding to concerns.
Yet, by churning out his usual PR guf,f even as Middlesbrough floundered, Monk effectively treated fans with contempt.
And you know the saddest thing? I know that Monk is no robot. As captain of Swansea, he was open, engaging, down-to-earth. He spoke like a real, live human being.
Even now, there are moments when his personality shines through.
Before an FA Cup tie against Cambridge last season, he regaled the room with tales of playing Havant and Histon, his horror at accidentally insulting a deaf player. It was a nice story, the kind of thing everybody loves.
Monk is neither cynical nor stupid. He is a smart, personable guy who has misguidedly allowed all the warmth and personality to be drained out of him.
He is also a good manager, as last year’s success at Leeds demonstrated.
But, if he doesn’t ditch the act and let his human qualities shine, Monk will never win the respect of supporters.