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armchair centreback :: success through pizza and punching

say my name!
first off all, a mighty round of congratulations to mr. jamie vardy, who is now not only the top scorer in the premier league, but the man who holds the record for the longest run of games [eleven, as of today] in which he's scored. not bad for a guy who three years ago was practicing his shot-taking with his garage door. i assure you, no soccer fan today hears the name jamie vardy and wonders who you're talking about. hats' off to you, young sir. [he's 28. that's not young for a professional soccer player by any stretch. -ed.] [way to make me want to hang myself. -kate.]

of course, when people do hear about vardy's record-breaking weekend, there is a very good chance they will have an arrested development moment: "him?" after all, the man whose record he bested, ruud van nistelrooy, is regarded as one of the finest midfielders ever in the modern premier league era, an icon of the ferguson era manchester united that dispatched opponents like the eye of sauron turned on a pesky mosquito. jamie vardy is a member of a team that, this time last year, was so far in the bottom of the league that even the teams near the relegation zone couldn't see them anymore. then the team mounted one of the most unbelievable comebacks in history, which has seen the former cellar-dwellers lose two games since april of this year. today's tie means they're pushed a point back in the standings, but at the beginning of the weekend, they were the top team in league and are still a tight second. 

from another perspective, leicester city, with a wage budget of just over fifty million pounds, today held the mighty manchester, with a budget seven times that amount, to a tie. a cash outlay that would be significant to a lot of nations has left the "new new" manchester united as the stingiest defense in the league, which is like waking up one morning and finding out that channing tatum is suddenly known solely for his nuanced acting skills. leicester, by contrast, have a more porous defense, but make up for that by scoring lots and lots and lots, which is exactly what united used to do. [there's an added strangeness to watching the two teams play because anchoring the leicester team is goalkeeper kasper schmeichel, the son and near doppleganger of peter schmeichel, who skilfully managed the goal for manchester united during the ferguson glory days.]

the viking genes are strong here
although leicester's enviable form spans two seasons and two managers, it's pretty obvious that current manager claudio ranieri is doing something right. and what he's doing right appears to be pizza parties. whereas the dour louis van gaal talks about how his players don't dare question him, ranieri promises pizza for all if the team keeps a clean sheet. leicester players might not be making manchester united money, but you can be sure that they can afford their own pizza. with extra cheese. you see what's happening here: it's not exactly about the pizza. 

in another, more northern part of the country, a much-loved team with a lot of frustrated fans of late has also made a managerial change. last year, dom's wish for his beloved arsenal was that they finally cut the strangely knotted cords that have bound them to manager arsène wenger and bring in the then manager of borussia dortmund, jürgen klopp. if you ever wanted proof that santa is kind of a cunt, not only did he fail to deliver klopp to arsenal, but a few weeks into this season, the man took the helm at liverpool. 

of course, if you follow the sport at all, you know this, because you couldn't possibly not know it. the excitement of having one of the hottest managers on the planet come to anfield has outpaced the fervour for any player on the team. for any player on any team, with the possible exception of vardy. then again, it's not hard to see why. 

after a year of the self-important grandstanding of not-so-much-value-for-money van gaal, or the increasingly erratic antichrist jose mourinho, klopp is like an almost literal ray of sunshine, with that [bleached] golden mop and [bleached] dazzling smile. tall, handsome and oozing charisma from every pore, he's also refreshingly down to earth. in his first press conference, he parried mourinho's self-selected moniker of "the special one" by calling himself "the normal one". sports reporters throughout the country have been fawning over him like groupies, but when you consider that they've been on a steady diet of mourinho tantrums, you get it. i'm guessing that the press room at the recent liverpool-chelsea game required a healthy supply of smelling salts to revive journalists after they fainted from sheer ecstasy. 

cue the choirs of angels
klopp is the real deal. he managed to take borussia dortmund to the top of the german bundesliga while spending a fraction [a moderately large fraction, but still fractional] of normal champions bayern munich. after a rough start the following year and after piggy old bayern gouged his team of their best players, dortmund rallied to climb far enough back up the table to at least qualify for european football. the improvement in liverpool, even if they're still struggling to score goals [again, contrary to what's normally been the case], they look like they just won the lottery. 

the new manager hasn't spent a cent on talent. even with an injury to his natural first choice striker daniel sturridge that seems to have persisted for longer than sturridge has been alive, he's worked with what he's been given and thus far has lost only one game in all competitions. [to crystal palace and alan pardew, who might be the most underrated manager in the premier league.] he hasn't handed out new bonuses, he hasn't even made radical changes to the weekly lineup. but this is still a completely different group than the one that started the season. because, one suspects, they're just as enthralled with having him as everyone else. he's known for his animated, passionate style, which has been on full display since his arrival. he's also known for an energetic, physical interaction with his players, spending time one on one with each of them and thinking nothing of playfully smacking them in the head as a way of getting them psyched up for a game, something that would sound like a bad cliché of a high school football coach if it didn't seem to be working so well. 

as chelsea improbably continue to flounder and jose mourinho and his bully tactics seem to have worn thin with his players, as they almost always do over three years with him, it does seem like there's been a sea change in what works when managing a multi-million dollar enterprise for the most popular sport in the world. so what's the magic spell? 

treat the game like it's a game. no one will die because of it, but that doesn't make getting excited about it any less enjoyable. so yes, there's a lot of money at play. but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have some fun.
as a manager, you are a boss whose employee base is made up entirely of young men, many of them barely out of or still in their teens. and all the big salaries and media stardom doesn't change the fact that young men want to feel appreciated and they want to feel that sense of bonding with those around them. 

so sometimes, it's about more than tactics and training. sometimes, a good performance is as simple as pizza or a punch in the arm. 

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