A tribute to Gordon Strachan & the lost art of manager wit and sarcasm
During his heydey in charge of Coventry City and Southampton, Gordon Strachan was, without doubt, the funniest man in football.
The subject of ‘characters’ in football is a tricky one. It’s not that they don’t exist, more that they split popular opinion. Just ask Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp.
But regardless of your opinions on either of them, at least they’re interesting. Plenty aren’t.
With mistrust of reporters on the rise, media training compulsory, and clubs increasingly keen to restrict access to their managers and stars, interviews and press conferences are often a place of repetition, banality and clichés.
Managers turn up and give their thoughts because they have to, not because they want to. They utter their well-practised stock phases, bat away any unwanted lines of enquiry and get out as soon as possible.
But it wasn’t always like this. And one man typifies a different, better way of interacting. Gordon Strachan.
His reaction to Harry Kane’s equaliser for England against his Scotland side in 2017 and post-match quip that “this might be a good night to start drinking” provided just a small glimpse of a man that was once the most entertaining, sarcastic, witty, self-aware and often obtuse voice in the sport.
Strachan, back in his days of managing Coventry and Southampton in the late 1990s and early 2000s, represents what we no longer have.
“I do the job the way I like to do it, enjoying myself,” he said in a 2001 interview. “I don’t want to change my personality just to be a manager.”
That ethos was evident right from the off when he finally swapped the short shorts and shin pads for a suit, aged 39.
Strachan’s best of is a thing to behold, full of caustic, quick-witted, awkward and simply amusing responses, all delivered in his pleasing Scottish lilt.
While you wouldn’t want to be the reporter tasked with interviewing him, for fans his take on media duties was a refreshing change. Like his contemporary and fellow dry-wit enthusiast Mick McCarthy, he never took himself too seriously.
Strachan’s memorable moments contain a mixture of dry humour, awkward interviews and plenty of snappy punchlines, but he is also keen to highlight the bigger picture. Football is not everything – after all he’s got a yoghurt to finish today before its expiry date.
He offered his thoughts on subjects as wide-ranging as politics, the pope and the meaning of life over his early years as a manager.
Sometimes, somehow, these came prompted – but frequently they came courtesy of a strange, off-kilter tangent.
Ask a silly question…
A sense of humour is a rare and very welcome attribute in football, and for Strachan it came naturally to the fore as a manager.
Many bosses are bigger stories than their team, but Strachan’s resistance of dull press conferences and interviews were typically understated, not driven by ego.
His mantra was simple: If you’re going to ask me stupid questions, I’m going to give you stupid answers.
His resistance of hyperbole was also particularly noble, and is more relevant now than ever. Journalists can be guilty of overemphasising the importance of football, of placing significance onto minor things and of focusing their attention onto matters managers find trivial.
Back in his heyday of 2002, it’s hard to imagine a tabloid hack summoning up the courage to press a feisty Strachan on a topic he didn’t want raised. They could be met by any response from the sliding scale of Strachan’s repertoire, which ranges from self-effacing asides through classic one-liners and ends with the sharp rebuff.
While he sometimes crossed the narrow line between funny and rude, it was worth it; his spiky manner not only entertained the masses, sat at home watching Match of the Day, they also helped cut through the inherent triteness of the situation.
Strachan developed a reputation. Although obviously not recorded on YouTube for posterity, reporters wised up, eager not to be the next object of fun.
How many people record the highlights in order to fast-forward managers’ post-match interviews, or simply switch off when they speak? The likes of Tony Pulis, David Moyes or Craig Shakespeare hardly demand our attention.
By contrast, Strachan was box office. Having been groomed for the managers’ job while still playing at Coventry under Ron Atkinson, he had a unique learning experience and applied his exuberance from the playing field straight into his new line of work.
Like many modern-day bosses he was a figure of perpetual motion on the touch-line, shouting and cajoling his players. With his blood still pumping in the tunnel and press conference afterwards, his humour came from a blunt honesty rarely seen these days.
Strachan played for Aberdeen, Manchester United and Leeds United in a stellar career. The majority of his managerial success came at Celtic between 2005 and 2009.
But an important part of his legacy came in his formative years as a manager, when his personality entertained and cut through the banality of media duties. Managers of his ilk are few and far between.
By Felix Keith