Putting the Boot In
Is it Time to Think Again for the Premiership's Angry Mob?

September 3rd 2003

There is a battle raging at the heart of the Premiership. At stake is the future of British managerial style.

When Arsenal went into the break 1-0 down at Manchester City on Sunday after a 1st half of below par football during which Lauren had scored an own goal, what boss Arsene Wenger did then would have made Sir Alex Ferguson's stomach turn. He simply told the players what they were doing wrong, told them they knew how to play football and that they simply weren't doing that in the first 45 minutes. No tantrums, no shouting, no threats. The second half started and within 3 minutes the Gunners had equalised. 30 minutes later and Freddie Ljungberg had put them ahead, 15 minutes later the game was over and a potential embarrassment had been turned around 180 degrees.

Ferguson comes from the Brian Clough school of football management. If one of your players screws up - roast him. Swear at him, intimidate him, get his fighting spirit going. If worst comes to worst, use violence. There is nothing laid back about Ferguson's managerial style, the mood swings, the alcoholic's conk and David Beckham's footwear-prompted departure are all testament to that. He comes from a long line of top-flight football managers, a disproportionate number of who are Scottish, who brought success to their clubs in this way.

Picture the semi-professional footballer, who knows that victory could carry his team closer to the top flight. His wages are barely above what he could earn by doing a 'normal' job. He knows he could make it into the spotlight and one day even play for England. He is still on the up in his career, with a little bit more experience and little bit more application he can do better.

Picture then, the Premiership prima donna on 60,000 a week or more who knows he is at or very near the peak of his profession. Quite simply one of the best footballers in the world. With that knowledge comes a swell of ego, which has to be kept in check yet also carefully nurtured and cajoled into action. I needn't name names, I'm sure you know the kind of player I mean.

Do you not think these two players might need to be handled differently if in need of a proverbial kick up the Arsenal? There are managers that simply believe a player is a pawn to do his bidding on the pitch and keep his mouth shut when off it. Well, times have changed and are changing still.

Who knows? Perhaps in years to come players will simply make cameo roles for the highest bidder. Want David Beckham or Thierry Henry to take a free kick for you? That'll cost you 100,000. Want Oliver Kahn to stand between the sticks for the duration of a penalty shoot-out? 250,000 ought to do it. Of course the mechanics of professional football with strict transfer deadlines and cup-tie rules exclude this possibility at the moment. But the sport is transforming and with it are the players. It is only a matter of years before we see the first 100 million pound transfer fee.

The money-harvesting machines at Europe's top clubs increasingly rely on big names and big signings. Don't come to see Manchester United, come to see Van Nistelrooy, don't come to see Liverpool, come to see Owen, come to watch Henry play, and the rest of the Arsenal squad. And what about the Stamford Bridge circus? Over 100 million spent - all top attractions, come and see the big names, roll up roll up...

It's all a long way from oranges at half-time, a clip round the ear and jumpers for goalposts. The smart managers know that.


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