Managers who take dirty money must answer the uncomfortable questions that follow 5 months ago

Managers who take dirty money must answer the uncomfortable questions that follow

For a long time, football has perpetuated its role as a beacon of light in the darkness of real world events. But when the hands that feed have blood on them, that's no longer an option

"I'm not a politician. Stop asking me."

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"I'm a football manager [...] that's all I'm going to comment on."

The above quotes, from Thomas Tuchel and Eddie Howe respectively, follow a commonality among football managers when it comes to uncomfortable questions within the game. Managers have opinions on everything, it seems, until it comes to integrity of the people who pay their wages.

Perhaps neither man has an opinion on anything outside of football.

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Perhaps Howe, who was the first Premier League manager to take a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic, is not a geopolitics buff. Maybe he's never heard of Yemen, or Jamal Khashoggi.

Thomas Tuchel cannot plead such ignorance. Why else would he have admitted concerns over Newcastle United's Saudi takeover when it occurred, saying: "In general yes, and I think it's normal to have concerns."

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Maybe, though, his interest in world events ends beyond the Middle East. The Soviet Union, oligarchs, the Russian Federation, soft power - all of this may mean little to a man whose past two employers are accused of being at the forefront of sportswashing.

Thomas Tuchel and Roman Abramovich shake hands after Chelsea's Champions League win in May 2021. (Credit: Danehouse/Getty Images)

The thing that binds both men, aside from their apolitical attitudes towards their owners, is their willingness to accept enormous amounts of money from those same people.

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That itself is not wrong. Every human being has the right to work where they want, regardless of how potentially deplorable the actions of their employers are.

But in doing so, one must be prepared to justify those decisions, to answer the difficult questions which may follow.

Football has for years perpetuated its place as a beacon of light in the darkness of real world events, and for a while it got away with it. But when the very people in charge of clubs are greasing the wheels of death, destruction and nefarious influence, when the hands that feed have blood on them, that luxury is no longer an option.

The idea that sport and politics must not mix was always a useful line for the powerful - used by the sort of regimes and figures which now own some of the world's biggest football clubs - but it is one that the public now sees through.

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Both Howe and Tuchel are articulate, intelligent men, which makes their feigned ignorance all the more transparent. The same goes for Pep Guardiola, who passionately backs the cause of Catalan independence, while happily accepting Qatari money to be an ambassador for a World Cup which has seen thousands of migrant workers die to make it happen, in a country where it is illegal to be gay.

That is what makes this week's responses to ongoing bloodshed overseas so unpalatable, and laughable - particularly in a world where the blurred lines between sport and politics are increasingly coming more and more into focus.

Tuchel and Howe may think they are being sensible in their responses, and in some cases the most tribal of fans will buy it, but in truth they are only fooling themselves. They have happily accepted pay cheques from people who have arguably made the world a worse place, but consider it an affront to answer questions that do nothing more heinous than force them to confront the consequences of their own personal decisions.

Before readers get too up in arms, we must acknowledge that all of this has of course been allowed to transpire by the Premier League.

Tuchel did not approve Abramovich's takeover of Chelsea, and Howe is not responsible for the Fit and Proper Persons' Test that somehow allowed Saudi Arabia to purchase Newcastle United.

But both managers chose to accept the roles that they currently occupy, and it is not unreasonable to be asked questions about the people you get into bed with.

This is not about football managers being role models, or some romantic idea that they have a responsibility to provide a strong example to people. That's not the case. They can do what they want.

But is is about decency, and empathy. Tuchel and Howe have the right to take the money. They have the right to ignore questions about where that money comes from.

The rest of us? We have the right to think significantly less of them as a result.