Number twos. Not what you’d like to find in your own pockets after an absinthe bender with Ronaldinho, but when you’re a Premier League manager they’re quite handy to have around.
There was a time when the assistant manager was a relatively anonymous character. The magnolia oblong in an ill-fitting tracksuit, hopping around the dugout and nodding at their manager’s commands like an aquarium porpoise on meow meow. The Ron F***king Weasleys of professional football if you like.
But this year you’ll find a series of highly recognisable faces in the dugouts. Louis Van Gaal has turned to Manchester United legend/hirsute bounder Ryan Giggs to act as his second in command. Perhaps he sees Giggs as a talismanic, galvanising figure, an anchor to a glorious past as well as an individual clearly dedicated to furthering his development as a coach. Perhaps though he just wants Giggs near by so he can’t nip off and bang the clogs off Mrs Van Gaal.
Another Manchester United hero has take an improbable role as a Premier League assistant. Roy Keane is unlikely to do terrible things to your spouse, but he’s even more unlikely to sit quietly while things all go a bit, well, Aston Villa. Picture, if you will, Roy Keane looking on as Charles N’Zogbia gives the ball away so regularly you’d assume it was made of dead eels and wolf shit.
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Imagine his expression as Philippe Senderos repeatedly kicks the ball into his own face. The coaching setup at Villa is probably in better health with Keane on board, but despite an opening weekend win, if performances aren’t up to scratch Paul Lambert might learn the difficult lesson that two is the angriest number you can ever do.
On the subject of ex-players who would cheerfully knee you in the jaw and grind your shattered teeth into your gums, Steve Bould is now an established fixture by Arsene Wenger’s side. Perpetually stern and defensively acute, Bould’s role is to infuse the bite into an Arsenal side that has earned an unhelpful reputation for being easily bullied. If the team can channel a little more Bould and a smidge-less Wenger – then don’t be surprised if big Steve emerges as the most influential number two in the Premier League.
Or that title could very well end up with one of football’s more elegant figures. Glenn Hoddle may have spent the World Cup looking like he’d been sleeping in a wheelie bin full of hot spanners, but whenever he opened his mouth nothing but the finest technical observations and ideas spilled out.
And now he’s coaching at QPR, forming ‘Arry and The Od’ – a ragtag cockney collective with a penchant for ‘tasty’ football and an utter disregard for the letter aitch.
Harry Redknapp is, admirably, open to the involvement of big characters in his coaching set up and Hoddle clearly has something exceptional to offer a side that can count themselves fortunate to have been promoted. His tendency to show less gifted players how unashamedly brilliant with the ball he still is may not fill the likes of Bobby Zamora and Karl Henry with an overwhelming sense of self belief. But in terms of tactical impact this could quite easily be the signing that makes the difference between up and down.
So while all eyes are on Mourinho, Pellegrini, Wenger, Rodgers and Van Gaal’s enormous balls, don’t underestimate the influence of the assistants. They’re not Weasleys anymore. They’re Hermiones. Yes, ok, Giggs looks like Hagrid. And Bould sort of looks a bit like the creepy caretaker. So, on reflection, it was a confusing analogy. Sorry.
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