Somebody once divided the lead male characters in literature into “Sincere Man” and “Authentic Man”.
“Sincere Man” is sensitive, responsible, respectful – the kind of man you’d be happy for your daughter to bring home.
“Authentic Man” is rather different – a force of nature in whom sensitivity and politeness come a distant second to uncompromising candour and being true to himself.
Sincere Man might be Edward Cullen from Twilight – setting aside for a moment that he’s a vampire – or almost any character played by Tom Hanks. The classic Authentic Man is Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
It works in other contexts too. Paul McCartney was always Sincere Man, Mick Jagger Authentic Man.
In football, Chris Hughton or Russell Martin might exemplify Sincere Man; Jose Mourinho or Eric Cantona Authentic Man.
Authentic Man is more exciting, with an unconstrained energy and a certain animal magnetism (somewhat frustrating to those of us who are more like Sincere Man). Counterbalancing that, he does and says things which are inconvenient and often offensive.
You’ve probably guessed where this is going. For better or worse, Stuart Webber is clearly Authentic Man. Anyone who didn’t appreciate it before his interviews at the end of last week probably knows it now.
On the plus side, no-one can hear those interviews and doubt his honesty or commitment to getting things right at Norwich City. And his directness underlines a number of valid points, not least:
- He’s worked at a big financial disadvantage compared to many clubs around us in the league.
- His spending decisions have been balanced between short-term and long-term, when it would have been easier and more popular to focus on the visible and short-term.
- Criticism of him is fair, abuse isn’t.
He repeatedly accepted his share of responsibility for the team’s recent failures, and exonerated the fans from blame.
Why, then, has there been so much negative reaction?
In some cases, it’s prejudice. Some were set against him before the interviews and prefer to distort his words, or pick on specific oddities, rather than give him a fair hearing.
But that’s not the full story. Authentic Man is prone to saying gratuitous and insensitive things. Stuart’s interviews included some examples which have caused understandable upset to reasonable people.
Two obvious illustrations are women’s football and his abusers.
I’m sure Stuart recognises the virtues of promoting women’s football, and the excitement created by the Norwich team last season. He should have acknowledged that, and left it there. Adding his personal disinterest in women’s football was unnecessary, and worse: it took away from the efforts and achievements of many dedicated people in and around the Norwich set-up.
Similar with his abusers. He’d have had the sympathy of most listeners and readers if he’d said “I won’t be driven out by a minority chanting obscenities at me”. But his gratuitous description of divorcés in the Snake Pit will have both alienated a segment of fans and weakened his otherwise fair point.
Another blind spot for Authentic Man is tone of voice. In last week’s interviews, Stuart repeatedly acknowledged failure in the last two years and accepted his share of blame for it. I’m not sure that came across as clearly as it should, though, because he rarely alters his tone of voice – a tone well described by Chris Goreham as “bullish”.
Contrition requires a tone, as well as words.
So what can be done for the future? We can’t expect Stuart to morph into Russell Martin and suddenly become a master of diplomacy. Indeed, maybe we shouldn’t want that: if it came at the expense of diluting his drive and passion, a softening of his rough edges wouldn’t necessarily be good for Norwich City.
Reflecting on his interview, Chris Goreham noted: “Webber, like David McNally before him, always makes me realise I wouldn’t last five minutes working in football”. It’s tough, and that’s what we need Stuart to be.
As Authentic Man, Stuart’s attitude tends to be “This is me – take it or leave it”. In fairness, I think there’s quite a lot we should be prepared to take.
Given the failures and question marks of the past year, though, I hope he wouldn’t be averse to some help to get his messages across in the most engaging and effective way.
That help could come from a much-maligned source. Communications advisers – I’d better declare an interest, having been one – tend to be associated spin and gloss. And with some reason.
If they’re worth their salt, though, they have a more positive function: helping clients to understand their audiences and communicate in a relevant way, making valid points effectively and avoiding unnecessary offence.
I could dwell on communications (body language is worth an article in its own right). But let’s remember there’s something of greater importance here. Stuart believes he can meet the challenge of this summer and – together with David Wagner – turn the tide and bring fresh success to City.
He also knows it’s make-or-break – he’ll be judged, definitively, on next season.
He should have no complaints about it, and he won’t. For all his faults, Authentic Man doesn’t seek credit that he hasn’t earned.