Player Power – Who Is Really The Boss?

Written by Uche Abugu

There’s an old saying in football – when a new manager meets his players for the first time, he will scan the room, muttering under his breathe with his teeth set – “so you’re the guys that cost my predecessor his job.”

The loved and well decorated Carlo Ancelotti was just sacked by Bayern Munich lunch time yesterday, after losing to PSG in UCL match day 2.

Why would that be for a manager of his status, just six weeks into a new season?

Player power is at its peak and currently seems unpreventable. Are players taking on a larger than life role or is it simply a case of how do we live with it?

The heavily commercialised and inflated world of modern football, fat cheques et al is poisoning players mind, both young and experienced. Loyalty is out of the window as we see footballers refuse playing for their clubs, transfer demands or going AWOL, but the mother of them all is an issue every manager and club has to be wary of – managers are now the endangered species of football – hit most by this phenomenon – PLAYER POWER!

The fact that even the big guns aren’t safe, forced out every 2-3 years is proof enough. The average premier league manager’s tenure is now just about 52 matches. If the gaffers had power, this won’t definitely be happening.

The proportions are scary, as we delve into some-

The players at Leeds in 1974 didn’t demand directly the sacking of Brian Clough after 44 days in charge, but clearly they simply didn’t bother playing for him, as you can understand why! Didn’t Ruud Gullit effectively lose his job for not starting with Alan Shearer in their derby game defeat against Sunderland?

Today Andre Villas Boas, one of the young tactically sound managers in football is still recuperating from Chelsea’s dismissal, which was the fulcrum that turned his career South, towards the Chinese peninsula. It is telling that Villas-Boas’ reign was tainted by disagreements with key players.

Abramovich personally told the players then, that they were responsible for AVB’s disengagement. The Chelsea owner reluctantly dismantled his Portuguese ‘project’ after an emergency two-hour board meeting – sounds familiar?
He not only held the players accountable for the sacking, but was angry at their refusal to submit to his method, which was done so successfully with Porto. There, Villas-Boas relied on his front-line of Falcao and Hulk to score 74 goals between them. At Chelsea, Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres were the supposed mirror images of that formation, but they opted for the mannequin challenge in front of goal. We read reports of how Drogba allegedly gave half-time team talks and the players will switch back to Mourinho’s tactics, betraying AVB’s high defensive line time and again.

What about Ranieri? Oh yes, who become a bad manager overnight and was dispensed with. Gary Linekar wrote then – I shed a tear for Claudio, I shed for football.

We all did frankly!!!

The skunk in Ranieri’s ouster were reports that players dug a knife in his back by telling tales to the owner. How could Vardy, Mahrez, even Okazaki all become bad players overnight? Surely not. Kasper Schmeichel in an interview denied it when he was quizzed – player power got Claudio Ranieri sacked.

Every movie has a climax and it was Jose Mourinho’s sacking that confirmed our greatest fears – player power is becoming more significant in modern day football than desired. In the end, it’s a results oriented business and if a manager has “lost the dressing room” the results will, inevitably lead to a managerial sacking…wiley old foxes, aren’t they?

As Bayern Munich nonchalantly severed ties with one of the most successful coaches of all time – playing the devil’s advocate for Bayern players wouldn’t at all be fair towards Ancelotti. Of course, those guys in the Bayern’s dressing room are no small characters. With an ageing squad in desperate need of change, he was supposed to usher in a new, fantastic era at the Bavarians, promoting youth, because Bayern is not ready to keep splashing the cash in transfer markets, play beautiful football with intensity like Pep & Jupp Heynkes.

They said he lost the trust of many players – Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Ribery, Thomas Muller, Hummels was angered for being benched against PSG & even the teenager Coman. One begins to ask and wonder who actually is the coach here. For crying out loud, his tactics are tested and trusted- AC milan, PSG, Chelsea, Madrid.

Pep Guardiola played the 4-2-3-1 to suit himself – defending right after losing the ball, when they lose possession in the opponent’s third of the pitch, the striker and attacking midfielders are required to put immediate and intense pressure on the new ball carrier, blocking the passing lanes in front of him and run towards him from the back. Footsteps from behind or fans urging a quick pass normally forces the player into a risky pass that should be easy to intercept, not having enough time to make a decision. He used Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry to do more team defending. Guardiola’s most trusted wingers were Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman, who were 27 and 20, respectively. Could the bench be the reason for the mutiny, especially for the upcoming Coman? Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben struggled with injury last season, so it’s difficult to imagine the duo, aged 36 and 34, respectively holding down a starting XI in Guardiola’s team now.

Ancelotti has always preferred a 3-man central midfield, creativity over defensive prowess. At PSG Marco Verratti pulled the strings, at Real it was Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard being key in midfield – his ball distribution, vision of the football pitch and control over games. were qualities the Bayern board have not replaced yet. Sebastian Rudy is a fine, but not in Alonso’s class, neither is Thiago Alcantara.

“Balance” between attack and defence in a team already prone to counter-attacks, Ancelotti accepts the possibility of conceding goals on the break, but wants his team to instead focus on attacking, which suits Lewandowski best! Lahm and Alonso retiring taking away 464 Bundesliga appearances and 11 top-flight trophies with them, not forgetting their leadership roles, which the Bayern board is yet to replace.

Bayern did not do very well in the summer market, getting James on loan, Rudy et al…they sold Douglas Costa, Alaba just got back from injury, Neuer the keeper is out until January, making the lack in depth obvious. Lewandowski voiced out his disappointment with their transfer dealings, but the club Uli Hoeness came out to debunk him.

For all the brouhaha, the biggest question is who replaces Ancelotti? Looking for a new manager capable of bringing about a change in footballing philosophy and tackling the dressing room issues – Bayern find themselves with a mountain to climb. If rumours are to be believed, then when Sagnol’s probable 2 weeks interim management elapses, Julian Naiglemann- 30 years old takes over.- hmm. If Carlo couldn’t survive the big egos and names – is it one that Ribery & Robben is older than that will survive? What’s the guarantee they will play to instructions. The players in question are at the wrong side of 30, maximum 2 years at the top flight to give, and you sacrifice the coach for them? Where’s the big picture here. All of this does not bode well at all for the club’s future at the end.

Do you think player power got him out? Was he a victim of his own success, or did the board make the right decision? Only time will tell.

With tactical nous and eye for talent so celebrated in the managerial world these days, it is still the old art of man management that separates the men from the boys. As we chew and ruminate on this…one can only wonder who’s next on the chopping board of football players? As we mutter in disbelief – how to we stop this dangerous trend, let’s bear in mind that no one comes out of this smelling of roses it seems!

Let us know what your thoughts on this matter are in the comments below!