Since the All Star Break I have felt a gathering sense of foreboding hovering over me, a sense not unlike that felt by a husband discovering his wife checking out his internet search history,or maybe akin to that felt by an Englishman seeing a coach load of Americans in front of him in the queue for the all you can eat buffet. Either way, you get the picture. So what has caused this shadow to pass over the sunlight of my soul? To find it’s origin we need to travel to another time,another country and even another sport (cue harp strings to indicate a different location).
In 2001, after years of under performance, Sven Goran Eriksson was named the head coach of the England soccer team. His appointment was both revolutionary and unpopular, largely because he was Swedish (and therefore foreign) an intellectual (he wore glasses) and could speak many languages (previous England coaches had struggled with the rudimentary aspects of their mother tongue). Yet many heralded his arrival as a new dawn for the side, not least because he was taking over at the time that the so-called "golden generation" of young players were coming to the fore.
The first few months were a honeymoon period, with the fans welcoming a new approach and the players reveling in a different, less histrionic, management style. Yet strange thing were also happening. At major tournaments England still managed to under perform, the players were accused of lacking passion and fight (accusations close to treason in the eyes of the fans) and the team still continued to perform at a a barely reasonable level.
Questions were starting to be asked of Sven. Why could he not get the best out of these players? Why were they not fired up for big games? Certainly he was fiercely loyal to his team,and his team were fiercely loyal to him. But nobody ever got left out of the team, nobody ever got called out in public, nobody ever felt threatened.
Eventually the whole country turned on Sven.They were sick of him sitting passively in the dug-out no matter what triumph or disaster came his way. Whilst other country’s coaches prowled along the touchline like Charlie Sheen on the set of "America’s Next Top Model" our man sat there impassively. How could the players (or the fans) be inspired by this man?
The end was not pleasant. He left in a flurry of tabloid headlines detailing shady business meetings, fake Arab businessman and TV weather girls. England’s "golden generation" was tarnished, perhaps beyond repair.
As I watched the recent D-Backs-Cubs games it all came flooding back to me. The promising young team, the high hopes, the manager who shows little emotion on the bench. It’s a genuinely disturbing sequel to a movie I have already seen. Now it could be that in the confines of the locker room Bob Melvin launches his own veritable haboob at the players, but I doubt it. What this team needs is to be scared, to be excited, it needs a benches clearing brawl, and it needs it’s leader to let them know that he will never be satisfied until they reach the limits of their abilities.It needs, in short, to step outside of it’s comfort zone.
When Sven was England manager it was often the case that his half-time team talk (the one chance the manager has to change the mood of his players) would result in the team putting in a worse performance after the break, and the joke was that his post-match interviews could be summed up by the phrase "first half good,second half not so good". I’ve got that foreboding feeling that this could be a pretty accurate description of the Diamondback’s season.