You had to admire Pep Clotet’s optimism.
“I would like everyone to forget this,” he said after talking at length about Garry Monk’s hostility towards him. Maybe he believes in Father Christmas too.
When I tried to talk to him and give him my hand and the hand of Birmingham City, he refused.Pep Clotet
Theoretically, Birmingham City’s caretaker manager, like his opposite number from Sheffield Wednesday, was in the Hillsborough press room to talk about his side’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City. But it is human nature to be fascinated when two formerly good friends feud so publicly.
On Tuesday, when Monk held what was due to be a routine pre-match press conference at Wednesday’s training complex, there were just four journalists present. Post-match events are different, but there was barely a seat to be had.
“There’s a lot of people,” remarked Clotet. Twice.
It was not quite a reboot of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, but Monk and Clotet worked closely as manager and assistant at Swansea City and Leeds United. The Spaniard was busy managing Oxford United when his chief joined Middlesbrough, but jumped back on board at St Andrew’s. Then it all went sour.
“What’s most important to me when I’m assembling a staff is to give them an opportunity and show them complete trust, and you hope that they repay that trust with hard work and loyalty,” said Monk on Tuesday. “Sadly, not everyone has those values in their character. Some choose to pursue their own opportunities in the worst possible way.”
That, and not the tactical vagaries of a Wednesday night Championship draw, was why so many had their metaphorical popcorn at the ready.
Clotet went first.
It started with some routine questions about the game. It was the polite thing to do. Even on that the managers could not agree.
It felt like Wednesday bossed the game but, as is their habit at the moment, had not won it.
“It might have looked like they dominated but I don’t agree,” said Clotet when it was put to him. “The only thing we missed was a punch.”
No punches, but a good start.
Once the niceties were completed, it was on to the not-so-niceties. We were dying to know what Clotet thought about Monk’s comments.
“Not much really,” was the spoilsport’s opening gambit. But not much amounted to a fair bit.
“I’m speaking on behalf of my club so I have to be respectful in everything he say,” he scratched. “When it comes to personal things, we need to think a little bit before we speak.”
Then a bit of rope-a-dope.
“I worked in four different countries – as a head coach, assistant manager or manager – with fantastic managers, I had fantastic relationships with them, I learnt a lot from them,” he said, tip-toeing around the ring. “With Garry, we had five fantastic years. I think he grew thanks to my experience, thanks to my influence, and he helped me a lot.
“If I work for a manager or a club, I put their interests before mine because the coach’s must always be a humble position to do their best for the football club and the players.”
Then the jab to the ribs.
“At Leeds, it was like a honeymoon and it would have been unbelievable to stay but it was not possible because of his problems and at Birmingham he put me into a position I could not hold.”
The night started with Monk refusing to shake Clotet’s hand and, in English football, that is instantly a diplomatic incident.
“One thing I love in British football is that whatever the rivalry, whatever the problems in the game, whatever happens, manners are on top of everything,” said Clotet. “When I tried to talk to him and give him my hand and the hand of Birmingham City, he refused.”
Bad manners and respect were his themes.
“Everything we lived together for me was very positive and I’d hope we’d respect that in front of the media and act professionally and speak about facts,” he said.
In 2019, though, people cannot even agree what are facts.
Adding to the drama, we had to wait another half-hour to hear Monk’s facts. Disappointingly, there was no crossover as there sometimes is when one manager leaves the room to find another waiting outside. Monk was lingering over his other commitments but not dodging what was coming once four-and-a-half minutes of football questions were put to bed.
“I wasn’t making accusations, I wasn’t making claims, I wasn’t making comments, I was speaking facts,” he insisted.
“Every part of my body wishes it wasn’t true but I have to stay consistent and true to myself.
“I was asked the question so why shouldn’t I be honest? I didn’t do it for a reaction. I had nothing to gain from that, I know that.
“If people don’t like to hear that, I understand that.”
When it came to the big question, he was less talkative.
“Garry, can you tell us what Pep’s done that’s really upset you?” he was asked.
“It’s difficult, isn’t it, for me to say that... yeah, difficult, difficult for me to... and not because I don’t want to but I want to respect those (Birmingham) fans,” he sort of replied. “Should I go more into it? Every part of me says I should do but I’ll leave it at that.”
The pantomime was over. Hopefully, on Saturday, we can get back to the football.