Player Power in Football

The long regimes are well and truly gone. The longer you think of the managerial careers of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, the more you think as a modern football fan that how were they able to sustain this long at a club given the circumstances in the game these days. One of the biggest talking points these days is player power. Now, footballers refuse to turn up in the hope of landing a bigger payday somewhere else instead of sticking to the professional side of things.

Talent wins you games but team ethic wins you championships

Jupp Heynckes

We are living in the indisputable age of individual brand power within football; where certain players are able to harness their image rights and their brand to greater effect than their own employers.

However, there are more things attached to this instead of just the financial aspect. We put it below for you.

Endorsements

Player endorsement deals are becoming ever more expensive for brands and companies seeking to involve footballers in their advertising and/or broadcasting ventures. As players increasingly demand higher fees for these rights deals, brands need to take extra care to be clear around the commitments a player is expected to meet as part of the deal, especially around the number of social posts. Brands will need to be careful to ensure advertising rules are understood and complied with by the player too, to avoid the risk of the advertising materials falling foul of local advertising regulations.

Alexis Sanchez’s Manchester United introduction video is the most liked United video on Twitter

Manchester United is a super-big club in terms of financial muscles across the globe. However in recent years, they have taken this aspect for granted as deals as huge mouth-watering deals such as Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez have given them more of a boost off the pitch than on the pitch.

“Ivan Rakitic is one of the most underrated players in the world, however he needs to focus more upon his image and personality via Instagram because only then he’ll get recognition because he’s incredible on the pitch.

Jose Mourinho on social media’s influence

Alexis Sanchez’s Manchester United announcement resulted in 144.3k retweets and 198k reacts on Twitter, which is Manchester United’s record feedback on that platform. However, when we look at the football side of things, the Chilean is now an Inter Milan player only one and a half years after his debut in the United colors. Paul Pogba, on the other hand has been in the record number of social media activities for the club off the pitch. However, he has divided opinion upon his world-class potential on the pitch.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a massive influence on and off the pitch

Juventus’ signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2018 not only strengthened the Italian Champions’ team on the pitch, but it was also a strategic move in respect of club sponsors, commercial partners, and wider followers of the Juventus brand. Indeed, since Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus, the club’s Instagram following has rocketed from 9.8 million to almost 36 million, and similar social growth was experienced on the club’s YouTube and Weibo channels. The transfer of the Portuguese superstar was also followed by lucrative new sponsorship deals for the club with Adidas (double the value of the previous agreement) and Jeep (which went from being worth €17m a year to €42m).

When these aspects come into play, the club board tend to look at the financial side of things instead of thinking whether the player fits the team or not. As a consequence, the team and eventually, the club collapses.

Tactics

Tactical side of things in the modern game has also become synonymous with the player-power as you need the kind of tactics that gets the best out of them. We can dip into two examples where inappropriate tactics ensured the sacking of football managers. They are Rafael Benitez at Real Madrid and Unai Emery at Arsenal.

Benitez’s tactics against Barcelona lead to his sacking at Real Madrid

Rafael Benitez joined Los Blancos only 3 months after the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. His appointment was already bringing reservation within the Real Madrid fans because of his inept tactics. And boy oh boy! they were right.

“It’s true that the people attending the Bernabeu stadium are waiting to see good, attacking football and a lot of goals, and that is always also difficult,”

Calderon on Sky Sports

Real Madrid players have reportedly been less than impressed with Benitez’s ultra-meticulous approach to training, and the former Liverpool manager also faced criticism over defensive tactics after three goalless draws in the first two months of the season.

A 3-2 defeat to Sevilla in November cranked up the pressure on Benitez, but worse was still to come in the form of a humiliating 4-0 thrashing by arch-rivals Barcelona at the Bernabeu, as Madrid were ripped apart by Luis Suarez and Neymar. The madness of the Denis Cheryshev moment despite winning 3-1 against Cadiz ensured they were also knocked out of the Copa Del Rey. So, the former Liverpool manager didn’t only have a clue about tactics, but he also had no clue about his players’ disciplinary record. Rafa Benitez was sacked as Real Madrid manager after the 2-2 draw against Valencia on 4th January 2016.

Emery and Ozil’s poor relationship lead to the Spaniard’s sacking

The biggest talking point of Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal was around Mesut Ozil’s place in the side. Unai Emery had made it clear that the World Cup winner had no place in the side because he wanted players in the advanced position who were good both with and without the ball. He felt that Ozil was a big liability when his side doesn’t have the ball.

Even though everyone backed his decision initially after he went 22 games without a defeat. he results took a tumble in the second half of the season as Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup to Manchester United, finished 5th in the Premier League and lost to Chelsea in the Europa League final. In the second half of the 2018/19 season, Mesut Ozil missed 60% of the games, including defeats to West Ham United, Manchester United in the FA Cup, etc.

However, the stubbornness elevated to massive heights this season as he continued to drop the German midfielder and the results also declined. In the League Cup game against Liverpool, Mesut Ozil was man of the match despite his team losing. Unai Emery stated after the game that the player is ready to start games but still would keep the player at home for “tactical reasons”.

The message from Ozil was clear. He wasn’t having any of it from Emery

This, combined with all the external issues were fundamental to Unai Emery’s sacking from the North London club in December 2019.

Management

Management is also very much essential to how the manager wins the support of his dressing room. You need to look into how many minutes each and every player is getting so that the player is comfortable in terms of staying at the club. However, if you start picking players after neglecting how they fit the team or have a communication barrier. Things get very ugly. We can look at two examples regarding this, Carlo Ancelotti’s time at Bayern Munich and Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal.

Ancelotti’s poor management a Bayern Munich were pivotal in his sacking

Carlo Ancelotti’s time at Bayern Munich was a combination of tactical ineptness and poor management skills. As the former Real Madrid manager was joining his first German club in his illustrious career, there was a communication barrier between him and most of the Bayern players. The training management was considered “old school” and “extinct” by the Bayern panels. Tactically, his deployment of Thomas Muller on the right-wing brought the worst attacking numbers out of his Bayern career so far as he couldn’t influence the game like he is capable of.

However, the poor communication skills were bailed off as Bayern Munich had leaders to get behind the manager in Phillip Lahm and Xabi Alonso. Additionally, there were players in Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez who could communicate with Ancelotti in Spanish as Bayern Munich went on to win another Bundesliga Title.

Things took a different route by the moment the 2017/18 season had started as Xabi Alonso and Phillip Lahm had retired, canceling out the leadership qualities within the dressing room. The stubbornness within the manager remained as the players started to get infuriated. Eventually, the climax came in the group stage game of the Champions League against PSG when they lost 3-0 with Ancelotti benching most of his main players.

“What we’ve seen tonight was not Bayern Munich,”

The club’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after PSG defeat

Don’t know whether Carlo had actually benched them or the players didn’t want to play, but the Italian manager was sacked a day after this defeat.

Back to the Premier League and Unai Emery also had created a cloud over Arsenal because of his methodologies. A big issue was his mismanagement. Laurent Koscielny was at Arsenal for a long time and was also the captain of the club. However, his prime years were behind him as he was having an Achilles problem which he sustained against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals in 2018.

Koscielny left Arsenal because of Emery’s poor management

However, the Spanish coach wanted his captain to go the extra mile. The continuous starts of the French defender was the last thing he wanted as his persistence eventually got to Koscielny. The player declined even further in his performances, highlighted by his disastrous second half performance against Chelsea in the Europa League 2019 final.

The Arsenal captain returned the favor by going AWOL before finally making his move to Bordeaux. Next season, we also saw the likes of experienced veterans in Nacho Monreal also leave the club. As soon as the leaders left the dressing room with Ozil also being frozen out of the team, the squad took on the manager’s methods, at times even making fun of his communication skills. Unai Emery was eventually sacked as Arsenal manager in December after the 2-1 defeat against Frankfurt in the Europa League group stage match.

“You don’t just the personalities in the dressing room, you also need players that promote togetherness and have a big concept of team. This is because managers don’t have an easy job anymore.

Jose Mourinho on Beanyman Sports, September 2017

It shows that for a manager to properly manage the individuals, he also needs certain veterans around them to make sure that they are well within their limits.

Ego

There are athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have won countless accolades, but having a winning mentality, they continue to strive for more and more success. However, there are also certain situations when being successful creates ego within a group of players which they use to the club’s disadvantage.

As we saw in the recent article of Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer treatment, Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson were the core of Manchester United being a footballing giant on the pitch as the manager and the captain of the club were integral to the club winning Leagues and most specifically, the treble. However, both were the mirror of each other which was why we could see a fall-out between both of them coming.

Roy overstepped his mark (in his comments vs Middlesbrough) and there was nothing that we could do.

Sir Alex Ferguson upon terminating Roy Keane’s contract

Roy Keane’s “harsh comments” on his young group of players frustrated as well as the fact that he gave comments upon interest from Bayern Munich infuriated Sir Alex Ferguson and the relationship between both the players collapsed. However, the Manchester United board stuck with their legendary manager and kicked out Roy Keane, which is the opposite of today’s game as the player usually gets the favor. The things are yet to be resolved between the two of them.

Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson’s fall out still has a cloud over United fans’ brains

When a manager has succeeded with a group of players and those same players do not take the manager’s instructions, that’s on the players and not the manager. Fast forward 10 years after the Keane debacle, Jose Mourinho has returned to England and won his third Premier League title at Chelsea convincingly. However, things take a dramatic turn at Stamford Bridge as the defending champions are only 1 point above relegation in December.

If the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club had, and the message is again which was delivered before that if the club has wrong decisions, only the manager is guilty. It is important that everybody assumes responsibilities, including me, the board and the players.

Jose Mourinho after his Chelsea lose 3-1 to Southampton, October 2015

It was unbelievable to even the panels that dislike the Portuguese coach that a manager of such a magnificent CV was facing this situation. Jose’s nightmare season was over after the 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Leicester City in December 2015 as he was sacked for the 2nd time from Chelsea.

Eden Hazard downed tools in 2015/16 under Jose Mourinho, leading to Portuguese’s coach sacking

Speaking of Leicester City, they performed a miracle in the history of football. In Sky-bet, it was called a 5000/1 miracle as the foxes won the Premier League title in 2016 in one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. However, the miracle happened TWICE Fast forward 6 months and Leicester City, just like Chelsea a season before, were sitting one point above relegation.

When I was sacked as a champion, I thought it was a giant, now I realize it was peanuts

Jose Mourinho on Ranieri sacking

This was the moment where the player-power had fully adjusted its feet under the table. After the 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League RO16, there were reports that Leicester City players had met the Leicester owners to ensure the sacking of the Italian manager.

I’ve been watching football for a very, very long time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of football where two teams should come off the pitch and hold their heads in shame. Liverpool for how bad they were and Leicester for how good they were on the back of how poor they’ve been just through effort and commitment.’

Jamie Carragher after Leicester’s first win after Ranieri’s sacking

Claudio Ranieri had turned those players into superstars, and those superstars prepared the grave for him 6 months later. The common denominator within that time was only success. Once the players get the fame, they take it for granted and think that the club will stick by their financial positions at any given condition. This sacking was different to any other sacking, it wasn’t Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United or Manchester City, where you expect title challenges every single season. It was Leicester City who were only relegated a couple of years before being champions and now they had the audacity to take down someone who they should be having a statue outside the King Power Stadium.

Ranieri sacked only 6 months after winning the League with Leicester, after losing the dressing room

2 years later, we saw a similar trend appear between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho at their time together at Manchester United. Paul Pogba had just come back to the club after winning the World Cup in 2018 with a French side that was phenomenal back to front. However, considering the player’s profile and commercial value had increased even further after that success, the French midfielder and his agent Mino Raiola took it to the club’s disadvantage as the player was less concerned about the club’s potential and always wanted to make things about himself. Additionally, the agent also continued to influence negativity within the club by giving negative remarks about the manager and how the club was being run. The manager Jose Mourinho wasn’t utilizing the squad well either as he involved his ego into it because of the club’s lack of support in the transfer market. The messed up scenario enabled the board to make a decision based on the financial side of things. They preferred the player over the manager as the Portuguese coach left Old Trafford in December 2018 and Pogba was influential to the team for the next 3 months by scoring and making goals.

Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba experienced a fallout at Manchester United

However, as they say, that “Leopards don’t change their spots”, the dark side of Paul Pogba came back to the surface under Ole Gunnar Soljskaer as he started talking more about the clubs that were interested in him i.e. Real Madrid and Juventus. He even expressed his “desire to leave” in the summer of 2019. The club didn’t allow the deal to push through as they were too much influenced by his name without thinking about the fact that whether he brings positivity to the environment of the club or not. This goes to show that the player’s persona can also have an influence on the club board making decisions.

Conclusion

“Player power” represents both a blessing and a curse for football clubs. On the one hand, players have undoubtedly become more self-righteous and harder to manage. Managerial tenures are getting shorter as gaffers increasingly “lose the dressing room”, and we only need to look as far back as 2 years to witness the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Phillipe Coutinho. in protracted sulks; absent without leave in an effort to force a move away from their respective clubs. Apart from that, we can only look at last season’s League Cup final when Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had a moment of madness by not coming off the pitch against his manager’s will.

Kepa Arrizabalaga’s moment of madness in the League Cup Final 2019 by not coming off, against his manager’s will

The concept of “No player is more important than the team” or “No manager is bigger than the club” is now a foregone conclusion as every player now seemingly has his own influence, which is a sad state of affairs.

However, it is important that everyone assumes their responsibilities from players to manager and bring that glue of unity back within the clubs during the good and the bad times. The best teams or the best players are the ones with the big ethic and those who accept criticisms unlike anybody else. But those days look to be gone.

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