Do Managers Need to Speak English?

From the Touchline

We still have another two matchdays to go but for Walter Mazzarri, the final day has come and gone. Watford fired the Italian manager and there are a laundry list of reasons why he needed to be relieved. Blame the bad man management, poor relations with the media, or unusual training methods, but some in the media are blaming something else. Many reports note that Mazzarri failed to learn enough English to shed his translator during his time with the Hornets, and that was the terrible sin.

How did Mazzarri make it work in England not speaking the Queen’s tongue? It was a team effort. His assistants would relay information to the players from the manager. Some of his players spoke enough Italian to liaison with the other players. In interactions with the media or those outside the club, the translator was a convenient cover that could smooth over any tense situation. Is it perfect? No but players make it work on the pitch all the time. Petr Cech once said that playing for Arsenal means at times he has to yell out commands in four languages. In this international game, players need to adapt and find a common language.

The perfect manager in our mind and adapt to different cultures as they move between leagues. We remember Jose Mourinho, who learned Italian before taking the Inter position to ingratiate himself with the media. It is a sign of respect to the league, media, players, and country that a manager learns the language. It is also a matter of expediency – it’s easier to align a set play during a match if you can yell out complicated alignments in a language they understand. A manager who doesn’t learn the local tongue is like the boyfriend who won’t move in with you – yeah he loves you but he needs some space.

Yet consider another perspective, that the language issue is a lingering, subtle nationalistic jab. Does it matter what language a manager speaks? Yes, it makes things easier in the heat of the moment but in reality it makes us feel comfortable. We want our manager to care, to commit. But if he can work with his players and achieve the results needed, then we should not care how he responds in the press room. We tolerate players using translators or speaking through interpreters when they play well. But eventually we get antsy when we don’t hear our own tongue.

In the perfect world, it’s best for the manager to learn a language that most of his players (and the fans and media) understand best. In reality, the best language is wins and trophies, and Mazzarri didn’t do this enough to make up for not learning a new language.