It may be an old adage that football is the universal language, but try telling that to the countless foreign coaches who’ve come a cropper trying to get their baffled players to track back or to do whatever the hell it was Tony Adams wanted his Granada team to do.
When Paul Gascoigne joined Lazio he famously turned up early for training on the first day and spread 20 copies of Teach Yourself English around the dressing room, a prank that is said to have been received well, although he later had to also provide them with Teach Yourself Geordie for it to be of any use.
While most managers will have a crack at speaking their players’ mother tongue when they venture abroad, for the first few months their tactical instructions basically depend on how well their translator can explain the Gegenpress, as the following managers will testify.
FABIO CAPELLO – England
When the steely Italian took over the England job he assured everyone he’d be speaking fluent English within weeks, but with hindsight, that comment itself was possibly a mis-translation of ‘within several years’.
Capello was never the most affable and charming of figures, so his poor translator Ruben Reggiani was left with the impossible task.
Some critics questioned Reggiani’s rendering of Capello’s early press conferences leaving the media to ask whether the ex-Juventus disciplinarian could really be so lacking in social graces.
Players complained (under their breath) that they couldn’t understand what was being asked of them in training and things got so bad that Stuart Pearce was reported to be trying to learn Italian (no, really).
Fortunately Capello moved on before Pearce had to do any public conjugation and everyone, translators included, breathed a sigh of relief.
CLAUDIO RANIERI – Chelsea
When the Tinkerman arrived at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had just the man on hand, Gary Staker, a former steward who’d been Gianluca Vialli’s translator during his spell at the club.
But even half-Italian Staker wouldn’t have found it easy to translate Ranieri’s often bizarre Roman proverbs such as ‘if my grandmother had balls, she’d be my grandfather’ without sounding like he was just making it all up.
You only have to look at Ranieri’s quotes while at Leicester to see the size of the task Staker was up against in trying to make Ranieri sound remotely sane.
‘I pay for pizza, you pay for the sausage. I am the sausage man,” would definitely get you kicked off any self-respecting MA in Translation Studies.
MARCELO BIELSA – Leeds
It should come as little surprise that the obsessive Leeds boss doesn’t just have anyone to translate his words into English in press conferences and the training ground.
Salim Lamrani, or Dr. Salim Lamrani, is far from your average translator and has no formal qualification in either football or translation.
Instead, he’s a published author and speaker who has written books about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and boasts renowned expertise on Cuban-American relations as well as his doctorate in Iberian and Latin American studies.
Bielsa brought Lamrani on board while at Lille and he continued his role in Leeds, becoming a fan favourite after a hilarious exchange during an interview after a win against Stoke. How haven’t this pair got a sitcom?
JURGEN KLOPP – Liverpool
The translator rarely becomes the centre of attention but Jurgen Klopp has a habit of bringing them into the spotlight.
In April 2018, the German boss was so impressed by translator, Tony Costante, during the press conference for the Champions League clash against Roma that he insisted on a round of applause.
Klopp’s translator fetish resurfaced prior to Liverpool’s match against PSG when he praised the translator for having ‘a very erotic voice’, which was all very awkward in truth.
BOBBY ROBSON – Sporting Lisbon
You can’t really do a feature on translators without mentioning the ultimate translator, Jose Mourinho.
While now it’s impossible to imagine The Special One refraining from adding his own thoughts and merely translating for someone else, that was how he got his break in football alongside the great Bobby Robson.
By translating Robson’s instructions at Sporting and then Porto, Mourinho took an unusual path to coaching stardom, learning from a true legend of the game.
And remembering his roots has certainly kept Mourinho humble.