On Thursday, Slaven Bilic announced in a press conference that Dmitri Payet has his heart set out on a move away from West Ham, with reports suggesting that he wants to head back to Marseille after leaving the club in the summer of 2015. His strike has not gone down well with fans and Gary Neville gave a scathing assessment of the entire situation via Twitter.
“You’re better off without him. He’s a grain of sand on a beach to your club.”
Over the last few years, player power has increased drastically. Players have been able to voice their opinions about coaches and tactics and it has become an important aspect of the sport as player satisfaction is vital for the best performances. Players like Zlatan have always considered themselves equivalent (or even greater) than the team they represent (not like it matters for Zlatan. He’ll just keep scoring). Such an attitude has actually improved conditions for the players. In the past, players would be taken for granted and were subjected to various problems and abuses (the recent investigation of sexual abuse in English Football in the 20th century is an example of this).
However, increased player power will only result in the destabilisation of the entire football club. Unlike board members or even managers who pretty much work behind closed doors, players walk up to the pitch and play at least once a week, and poor performances are something that can easily be observed and scrutinised. Sacking a player isn’t as simple as sacking a manager. Watching them play poorly will make the fans restless and benching them for a long time will induce poor morale, which is contagious and will affect the whole playing unit.
Chelsea is one of the best examples of a club with very high player power. Chelsea produced the worst ever title defence in the history of the Premier League when they finished last season in 10th place. The same side was on top of the table at Christmas the season before and after that. Here, player power meant that Jose Mourinho could no longer control his players and it eventually led to his sacking. This was not the first instance of such an occurrence in the club with a similar situation leading to the sacking of AVB in 2012. Valencia were pretty much a top 4 side for a long time and even won the league in 2004. Now though, Cesare Prandelli quit the Valencia job with the club sitting near the relegation zone as he was in poor terms with several key players. Wayne Rooney’s strike to earn a pay rise is something that is well documented. And now, Payet is on strike to leave West Ham despite the fact that it was his performances for the club that saw him earn a spot in the national team. Barcelona have also gotten involved in this issue by sacking the club director for making comments on their best player, Messi. While the Argentine is probably the greatest football player ever, this entire event highlights how much power he has over a club as huge as Barcelona.
There are instances where player power has worked out well for the team. Real Madrid players openly called for Benitez’s exit and made it happen and are now unbeaten in over 40 games under Zinedine Zidane. But such instances are rare and it takes a great judgement and immense amounts of luck to end up this way, something that most clubs do not have in plenty.
Managers have had to adapt their game to the present situation. Zidane is someone who works at a personal level with his players and ensures that they are happy to play under him and the club. Antonio Conte picked gifts personally for his players over the festive period and has worked hard in getting to know his players and it has worked out beautifully. This has taken player manager relationships to another level as the game continues to evolve.
But it has taken away something away something from the game, something very important – Passion. Players no longer care for the club they represent or the manager who helped them improve their game and are mostly money driven. The number of young players who have left to China this year is testament to that. It has also made managers less of teachers or mentors. In the past, Sir Alex Ferguson could give players the ‘hairdryer treatment’ without fear of rebellion. Now, they cannot risk bringing about major changes without angering the star players. The sport will continue to produce more Messis and Ronaldos, but it will eventually run short of Fergusons and Gerrards, people who put their club over everything else, and this is something that no amount of money can buy.
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