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Why familiarity in modern managers is bad for the evolution of football

There is something familiar about Marco Silva. Sitting on the rostrum in the bowels of the Jose Alvalade last week, chewing over his Sporting Lisbon side's narrow defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League, the 37-year-old looked like he might have rolled off a production line.

He is young -- depending, to an extent, on your perspective -- and handsome, sharply dressed, with a carefully cultivated five-o'clock shadow obscuring his jawline. There is a charisma about him, a sense of ambition, of a man who knows he is going places. He talked about collectivism, about work, about big ideas and grand plans.

He fits a mould that includes Andre Villas-Boas, now at Zenit Saint Petersburg, and Nuno Espirito Santo, impressing in his first high-profile job at Valencia. Leonardo Jardim, now at Monaco, does not quite have the look -- if Villas-Boas, Silva and Nuno could all be moderately successful businessmen sharking around a nightclub, Jardim looks more like the bouncer -- but, below the surface, he is similar, too: he is the right age, and he dresses in the right way. So do Paulo Sousa, at Basel, and Vitor Pereira, until relatively recently of FC Porto.

This is what Portuguese managers look like these days, with the honourable exception of Jorge Jesus, Benfica's firebrand coach, whose bouffant hair and swaggering stride give him the air of an ageing thrash-metal icon. They all cut the same figure, and many of them share the same background, too: the unimpressive or non-existent playing career (only Sousa played among the elite, and even he was a cog-in-a-wheel player, an astute but unspectacular defensive midfield player); the education at Largs, Scotland's coaching campus; the early start on the management ladder.

The explanation for this pattern had departed the stage just before Silva mounted it. All of these men owe their careers, so far, to some extent to Jose Mourinho. Some, like Villas-Boas, learned at his knee; others, like Nuno or Paulo Fonseca, at Porto last season, share his agent, the all-powerful Jorge Mendes; the rest, like Silva and Jardim, are profiting from the trail he blazed.

Mourinho's influence on Portuguese football is silent but vast. His success has laid the path for all those who followed, inspiring clubs, big clubs, to give young men a chance, to disregard the old tendency to look for a famous former player who might sprinkle a little stardust on his charges and to resist the reflex to look for a safe, wizened pair of hands. Every club wants to find the new Mourinho, so they search for someone who fits the criteria, who looks a bit like him. Portuguese football is chock full of mini-Mourinhos.

They are not alone. This is a paradigm that has been recreated across Europe, varying only slightly as it crosses borders.

One high-profile former German international confided to me last year that he had come to realise he would never be given a decent managerial job in his homeland because he was not the "schoolteacher" sort that Bundesliga clubs were looking for. There, it is not so much Mourinho who is the father of the trend but the rather less revered figure of Ralf Rangnick, once of Schalke and Hoffenheim. Clubs are looking for a coach -- not a manager, thanks to the megalomania of many of the Bundesliga's sporting directors -- someone who wants to play that ultra-modern brand of gegenpressing football that Rangnick helped to pioneer, someone with a philosophy.

Jurgen Klopp and Jogi Low are its most famous exponents, the two who brought it to its highest form, but it is Rangnick who, to a large extent, prepared the ground (although Jurgen Klinsmann deserves credit, too). Without Rangnick, there is no Thomas Tuchel, who was working wonders at Mainz; there may not even be a Roger Schmidt, turning Bayer Leverkusen into one of Europe's must-watch teams.

The visual impact in Germany is no less striking than it is in Portugal. Look at a Bundesliga technical area and you will see a man in a tight-fitting pair of trousers, a tailored herringbone shirt -- his tie will be skinny, if he wears one at all -- and, hopefully, fashionable glasses. He will look like the history teacher who inspired you to concentrate at school, the man who made being in the choir cool. Klopp will look like exactly the same character except on his day off, which he will probably spend at a farmer's market or restoring antique furniture.

Then there is the Pep Guardiola effect. This is more international still, spreading from Spain to every corner of the old continent, convincing presidents and owners and chairmen that what they really want is a coach steeped in their club's lore; one who can maintain their unique, proud traditions; and who looks good in a suit.

It is not just that if there is no Guardiola there is no Luis Enrique, or Jagoba Arrasate, or Sergio Gonzalez or Mauricio Pochettino or even Diego Simeone. It is that there is no Massimiliano Allegri -- at least not in such a high-profile job -- and there is certainly no Andrea Stramaccioni, formerly of Internazionale and now repairing his reputation at Udinese.

That is not to say that any of these managers do not deserve credit for their own achievements. Of course they do. They have seized the opportunity they were given. It is just that they were given those opportunities because of the success others enjoyed first. Guardiola, Mourinho, Klopp and Rangnick: these are the trendsetters, the pioneers, the prophets of modern management, the men who showed the others the way.

In England, the greatest melting pot of the European leagues -- or the only place where there is no dominant native culture, take your pick -- all of these influences can be seen. Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez, Pochettino, Garry Monk: all follow the Mourinho and Guardiola templates to some extent.

They can trace their lineage back yet further, of course. Mourinho is such a compelling figure in England because this is a country still in thrall to the myth of Brian Clough; we expect our managers to have a bit of a strut. Rodgers self-consciously channels the granite-voiced mysticism of Bill Shankly. All of them benefit from the idea, best exemplified by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, that managers should be given time; they are afforded rather more patience than they might be if they worked elsewhere. It is Mourinho and Guardiola, though, who are the most obvious inspirations, in terms of iconography, in terms of approach, in terms of style.

So, then, beyond burnishing the reputations of this handful of coaches, does any of this matter? Is it a bad thing?

Well, yes and no. It does not do any specific harm, not really, so long as we assume that the impulse behind the similarities is driven by the individuals and not the clubs; that is, as long as Marco Silva looks a bit like Mourinho because that is how he feels a manager should look and not because that is the only way he could get a job, then there is no problem.

Except, of course, that football thrives on diversity. It is the tension between competing sets of ideas that helps the game develop and grow, that brings along great changes in culture and approach, that helps it to advance, that -- very occasionally -- shakes up the established order and makes things worth watching.

The problem when teams seem to be looking for their own version of something that has gone before is that this process is stalled. Identikit managers are more likely to produce identikit football and less likely to innovate, to find new and different ways of doing things. That serves to reinforce the status quo: no matter how much a manager looks like Guardiola, the chances are he will not be Guardiola. If he is simply a lesser version of the original, that is what his team will be, too.

Football -- to imbue an ethereal concept with a consciousness -- does not like taking risks. It never has. Owners and chairmen look at what another team has got and decide they want that, too. The hardest thing to do is to break out of the mould. Portuguese managers look like Jose Mourinho. They act like Jose Mourinho. But they will never be Jose Mourinho. The bravest choice is to take the man who has not rolled off the production line, who might do things differently. The bravest choice is not to follow a trend, but to try to set one.