Premier League’s top poker face

Looking back over the last eventful season – which manager did his best to maintain a poker face in the face of impossible odds?

Well it was Lady GaGa who said ‘a little gambling is fun when you’re with me’, and there were quite a few managers who tried to play their cards close to their chest this year, to no avail. Chief among them, of course, was David Moyes. His ten months’ tenure at the Old Trafford helm wasn’t exactly enough to test his true mettle, so you have to feel sorry for him. But there were times when he really needed a poker face but was unable to muster anything – sometimes looking like he was going to murder one or all of his players, others like he was about to burst into tears.

Top prize for best gaga poker face has to go to Fulham’s third manager of the season, Felix Magath. The German simply kept insisting Fulham would stay up and were playing well until it was too late -when he politely apologised! But at no point did his team even look like turning things around – yet you’d never have guessed it from his avuncular yet implacable interviews.

At the other end of the implacability spectrum, though, is crazy Uruguayan Gus Poyet whose heart is on full view on his sleeve. Yet at the time of writing, his Sunderland side look like they have a great chance of staying up. So a manager’s ability to keep a poker face doesn’t mean anything on the pitch perhaps?

And at the other end of the table, the top prize for having no idea what he’s thinking goes to Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini. Now either he’s an absolute master at maintaining a poker face and hiding his true feelings – or you simply get what you see and he truly understands how important all this football stuff isn’t!

You always get the impression that he’s doing his best at his job, but that his mind is on the bigger philosophical things in life. Whether it is or not is quite another matter.

The battle for the Premier League is currently between the Chilean at the Etihad and his Northern Ireland counterpart Brendan Rodgers down the M62 in Anfield. The Ulsterman is generally far easier to read, but what’s interesting is that both he and Pellegrini were both out-psyched twice by the special one. Chelsea took six points from both their main rivals with a team that is patently slightly inferior – so it has to be the Mourinho factor making the difference for the big occasions.

The poker analogy is interesting in such situations. Great players at poker can win out over inferior players who are enjoying consistently better hands – and this is exactly what Jose Mourinho achieved in these big games. The fact that Chelsea lost out in the semi-final of the Champions League and look like finishing third, at the time of writing, in the Premier League isn’t really the issue as it’s not yet a true Mourinho team. So it will be fascinating to see what moves he makes in the close season to make it one.

But the poker comparison is fair in that – all other things held equal – a team managed by Mourinho would generally beat any other in the current Premier League.

To see similar principles in action at poker, you have to go to a site dominated by professional players playing in tournaments. At Full Tilt poker, for example, the site was established by poker professionals which is what sets it apart – and in the tournaments, you can consistently watch the “Mourinhos” of the game winning out with inferior hands, which is what makes it fascinating.

But for the face alone – the prize has to go to the hapless Felix Magath!

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