Players now often hold more power
1 December ~ When fans and journalists declare that a manager has "lost the dressing room", they're certain he's finished. It isn't seen as a challenge to be overcome but rather a prelude to the P45. But it's nonsense to think that the players know best. Other than the scenario in which a manager is extremely unqualified or inexperienced, he will almost always be better equipped to make decisions than his squad. Only a tiny percentage of the players who try to get into management ever succeed; your average dressing room is not packed with potential Alex Fergusons.
More ridiculous is the idea that it's somehow acceptable that players who don't get on with a manager won't give their all. While watching an abject QPR display at the Britannia, I heard a fan say "There's just no passion, Hughes has lost the dressing room". Yes, a good manager should be able to motivate and extract that little extra but it's up to the players to give a damn. Commitment should be a given. Those fans chanting "you're only here for the money" (yes, José Bosingwa, they're talking to you) were nearer the mark.
Players are neither qualified nor entitled to undermine their boss and there would be considerably less heat on managers if journalists and fans accepted that. Yet there is little even an understanding chairman can do. Sometimes a clear show of confidence might be enough to convince players to get on with it but it will often have little impact. Fun as it would be, fining players for lack of effort isn't viable, while shipping out players en masse is impractical in mid-season.
Sometimes kowtowing to the dressing room pays. Chelsea's senior players didn't like André Villas-Boas. Roman Abramovich replaced him with Roberto di Matteo, their amiable former team-mate, and they battled to an improbable European Cup. Those managers who try to assert their authority don't fare well. At Newcastle, Ruud Gullit decided he was having none of this player power. Former captain Rob Lee was denied a squad number, Alan Shearer was dropped for a vital Tyne-Wear derby and Gullit was promptly sacked.
Yet if a manager is hired to be radical, a little unrest is inevitable. Like the rest of us, many footballers are wedded to old practices and may be unnerved by the new. When Tony Adams was confronted with Arsène Wenger's footballing and nutritional philosophies he admits to thinking: "What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher." A couple of years later, Adams was Wenger's double-winning captain.
Wenger wanted to do things differently but was careful to take the squad with him. Being a master strategist and excellent judge of players isn't enough; the modern day manager must also be an adept politician. He needs to have things his way while retaining the support of the team, particularly the influential senior players. There's not a straightforward formula for doing this. A manager who fawns over his players – as with Steve McClaren while in charge of England – will lose their respect. A manager who throws his weight around will soon find he's a lot less powerful than he thought. The savvy boss must plot a path between these two extremes.
The good news for managers is that if they do succeed and become a legend of the game, they can worry a lot less about being diplomatic. Alex Ferguson can unleash the hair dryer at will because both he and his squad know that he's the one who's considered irreplaceable. Andy Ryan