Between the Axe and the Unveiling, Speculation Doth Mount.

Until Kevin Keegan's clearly absurd appointment yesterday, Sky Sports News had dedicated itself to Newcastle's continued search for a depressingly and inevitably short-lived replacement for the previous depressingly short-lived incumbent. Managers up and down the country (Harry Redknapp, Mark Hughes, and, erm, Roberto Martinez), an effectively-retired manager who wouldn't be able to handle it (Keegan) and the vastly inexperienced man who seemed to be simultaneously both the ideal and the utterly disastrous choice (Alan Shearer) all faced the monotonous media barrage of speculation and rumour over their respective futures.

The texts and emails into the studio (who bothers to do this? Why?!) were dominated by Newcastle fans clamouring for a dual appointment of Shearer and Keegan, on the basis that they "are Newcastle through and through", and so on. The ongoing myth that Newcastle fans are more passionate than any other set of supporters (they do, apparently, love their football in those parts) and therefore "deserve success" is, of course, preposterous. But not preposterous enough to avoid being repeated mindlessly by the Football Focus and Soccer Saturday regulars.

The rapidly increasing frequency of managerial axeings (combined with the rapidly decreasing levels of patience of club owners) means football fans should be well-versed in the manager's art of facing mounting speculation. The various candidates, earmarked by the media as potential suitors for the veritably toxic chalice that is the St James' Park hotseat, provided the full range of nauseatingly generic responses to growing reports. The Angle... has collated these pathetic, regurgitated attempts to fob off the media and presents the:

Fig 1.0 - The Sky Sports News Speculatrum

The Speculatrum is by no means intended to be used as a indication of the likelihood of any end result from a certain level of speculation, but as simply a guide to the various methods that a manager can employ to deal with the nosey Sky Sports News reporter camped outside the gates of his home or training ground.

The Speculatrum ranges from the most solid rebuttal of media rumours (the upper red region) to the most flimsy wafting away of the mounting reports (yellow/green), before eventually reaching the stage where the candidate in question is reported to be "mulling over" an offer from the desperate club.
Ruled himself out - In theory at least, this is the most unequivocal response to media speculation. Gerard Houllier was among those who effectively ruled themselves out of the running for the Newcastle job.

Poured scorn on speculation - A delightful turn of phrase. The act of scorn-pouring can be performed not only by managers linked to a position, but also the chairmen of the clubs involved. Interestingly, Newcastle poured scorn on reports that Sam Allardyce only had six games to save his job.

Called for an end to speculation - A good indication that the manager in question is getting distinctly sick and tired of the media whispers regarding his future. Recently, Rafael Benitez desperately called for an end to speculation that he was to leave Liverpool. This, as with any other example of this request, will be universally ignored.

Scotched rumours - To scotch, the dictionary says, is to "bring an abrupt end to" something. Useful for nipping in the bud more unlikely rumours like, say, Kevin Keegan coming out of the managerial wilderness to rejoin Newcastle.
Quashed rumours - A similar act to scotching, although this one is apparently borrowed from media coverage of the legal system.

Dismissed reports - A club or organisation may take it upon themselves to further echo a manager's negative reaction to speculation by dismissing reports. The French FA were quick to dismiss reports that Houllier was bound for the St James' Park hotseat.

Rubbished reports - Clearly a more suitably casual rebuttal to more outlandish rumours. Such rumours will also be referred to as "utter nonsense" or "pure fantasy".
Quelled speculation - Reserved for more negative speculation. Clubs may need to quell fears that a player may miss the rest of the season with an injury.

Laughed off rumours - Rumours of audacious or cheeky bids can be easily laughed off in jovial press conferences.

Flattered by speculation - Used either to patronise the interest from a club which the manager would never dream of stopping low enough to join or, conversely, to acknowledge rumours linking them with a club they wouldn't have a cat in hell's chance of being considered by. Swansea's Roberto Martinez fell firmly into the latter camp when he talked of how flattering it was to be linked with the Newcastle job.

Distanced themselves from speculation - It is at this point we begin to move into the murky realms of non-committal. When a manager distances himself from speculation linking him with a move to another club, it means he is simultaneously - and stealthily - issuing a hands-off warning and a come-and-get-me plea to the managerless club.

You may interpret the following quote from Mark Hughes, regarding the recent Newcastle vacancy, as a perfect example of this particularly flexible reaction to speculation:
"I have not spoken to anyone from Newcastle, I spoke to my chairman last night
and he has had no contact, and I don’t think there will be any contact.
Not "commenting on something that has nothing to do with" them - An old classic, which is becoming less and less trusted with every transfer saga or managerial axe. Knowing that they have now sown the seeds, possibly by the facade of distancing themselves from speculation, the manager can now put his innocent face on and refuse to "comment on something that has nothing to do with" him. Mark Hughes tried this trick as well.

Alternatively, managers may attempt to avoid talking directly about the vacancy by mumbling something about not wanting to comment on "hypothetical situations". Yep, Mark Hughes had a crack at this one, too...

Refused to rule himself out - Edging closer to a tacit admission of interest in the job of the moment, a manager will now refuse to rule himself out of the running. This is usually accompanied with one of those eternally infuriating get-out clauses that only football could produce - asserting that, "in football, you never say never". Quite why the likes of Geoff Shreeves cannot manoeuvre their pre- or post-match interview technique around this clumsy attempt at coyness is beyond logic.

Refused to confirm or deny reports - The final pretence. At this point, managers can go rather quiet, leaving Sky Sports News to feed on a five-second video loop of them leaving the training ground and waving at the camera as they speed off. Newspapers rest assured that their scattergun approach is no longer required, so they can stop tapping up not-at-all-imaginary close pals, insiders and club sources.

Fuelled speculation - A manager can fuel speculation simply by entering any retail premises in the surrounding area of a club searching for a new manager, sparking whispers on internet forums that David O'Leary has been spotted in a Middlesbrough branch of Foxtons or that
Sam Allardyce has been seen devouring a sandwich in a motorway service station in the rough vicinity of the Reebok Stadium.

Thrown hat into the ring - It is routinely the task for the interim caretaker manager to take it upon himself to unconvincingly throw his hat into the ring for the vacant spot. Usually thrust into the spotlight temporarily, after bravely stepping out of the shadows of their role as No. 2, the caretaker manager never has any real chance of being offered the job - especially after a couple of capitulations in their few games in charge. These are conveniently forgotten when the new, proper manager takes over.

Finally, the candidate that flirted with the mounting speculation all along is chosen, and they are reported to be mulling over an offer. A brief period of mulling is sufficient before they are unveiled and paraded in front of their expectant new fans. Talk of funds being made available - possibly enough to fill a warchest - ensues, but the supporters should no longer expect him to hit the ground running in his first game in charge. The cruel Gods of football fate cottoned on to this trick a while ago, after Premiership chairmen started firing managers every other week in the hope that the replacements would automatically win their first game in charge. A 1-1 draw is generally considered acceptable nowadays, particularly for a side that can sit back and relax in its new status as a side in transition.

Being in transition is effectively the pure football equivalent of going into administration - you can kiss goodbye to around 10 points straight away, but it gives you a bit of breathing space.

Until, that is, the mutually-consentual axe falls once more.


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