Managers: Soccer fashion’s new frontier

Excuse me, Mr. Mourinho, who are you wearing? This week, millions of fans from around the world will tune in to watch the English Premier League. While their attention is focused on their hopes of witnessing a 30-yard screamer, or a brilliant piece of technical skill, they may miss out on perhaps the most peculiar feature of modern soccer: the manager’s attire. I invite you to join me on a venture into the largely unexplored topic of touchline fashion and the coaching catwalk.

The Premier League markets itself as the most competitive league in the world; any given team can beat anyone, on any day. It celebrates the unexpected and the thrilling. Fans and pundits heatedly debate both on- and off-field events: player contracts, managerial disputes, tactics, even club owners. One area of particular focus is managerial performance, yet while the soccer world devotes an enormous amount of attention to managers’ behavior and quotes, their fashion choices too often go undiscussed.

Perhaps the unpredictable, frequently ridiculous attire of the players deflects attention from the wardrobe choices of their managers. (The players’ haircuts belong in a conversation of their own.) Either way, the managers are never given a chance to flash their best Blue Steel.

One can classify managers’ apparel into two general yet distinct groups: athletic attire, such as club-branded athletic gear; and formal, which ranges from business casual to three-piece suits. Both groups share equal representation among managers in the Premier League. And yet there is no specific reason for this difference.

One might assume that more prestigious clubs demand more formal vestments from their managers. Arsene Wenger always sported a three-piece navy blue suit accompanied with a bright red tie, occasionally including a sports parka, much to the glee of the internet (Google “Arsene Wenger Zipper”). Yet Jurgen Klopp habitually dons slick New Balance shirts, pants and especially shoes. Both managed two of the largest clubs in England: Arsenal and Liverpool. While there may not be much consistency in actual attire, appearances are always slick.

The manager is, after all, the figurehead of the team. His sideline manner is constantly on display throughout any match. When one might succumb to a moment of rage, frustration or even misfortune and produce a memorable gaffe, it’s better to do so while well dressed, rather than slovenly. In moments of great triumph or elation, the pomp of attire only adds to the surrounding aura.

A manager’s choice of clothing may also reflect the image they wish to project. For instance, Jose Mourinho has recently adopted an almost Bond-villain aesthetic. In Manchester United’s game against Burnley, he could have very well been Christoph Waltz in disguise. The smooth, bright grey hair, with a taupe, heathered cashmere sweater covering a grey cotton shirt—he even speaks English well, but with a heavy foreign accent! It does make sense for those familiar with Mourinho; he commands a great deal of control over his squads, hand-pick- ing his right-hand (or right-foot) men to do his bidding to the end. For a manager whose playbook is only successful with the uncompromising loyalty of his players, the villain look would serve Mourinho well.

As for Jurgen Klopp, his sneakers, sweatpants and Liverpool training shirt don’t appear to play a direct role in his aura. Rather, their athletic nature serves primarily to ventilate Klopp’s body. Klopp is among the most expressive managers in the Premier League, gesticulating wildly along with the ebb and flow of the match. His celebrations are marked by jumping and fist pumps, his fury with short sprints toward the fourth official to leer over him and elaborate his afflictions. Klopp is rather vigorous on the touchline; thus, his New Balance tracksuit suits his exertion, in the same way that Liverpool’s uniforms suit the players.

It would be ignorant for the world of soccer pundits and analysts to continue to remain si- lent on the discussion of managers’ appearances. For all the work the manager does to prepare his team for matchday, the clothes that he chooses to wear may truly be the only part of the goings on over which he has absolute control.

A manager can train his players, teach them his desired tactics, cajole the referees, even dictate the length of the grass cut on his home pitch (Yes, Pep Guardiola does even that), but once the game begins, the result is out of his control. The players will do what they do, the referees will make the calls and the manager will stand, occasionally yell, isolated on the sideline. It may even offer some consolation to him. He can think to himself, “We may have lost 5-0, but I looked damn good.”

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