So, this week we learned that the Manchester City players are having more daily quarrels than an episode of Big Brother.
Football dressing rooms won’t ever be places for the feint-hearted. Chuck together 20-odd alpha males who all think they’re the bees knees; make them eat, sleep, and play together every day, and you might not be too surprised to learn there’s no shortage of strong opinions, wind-ups, finger pointing and whisper it quietly, even nasty swear words.
Throw City’s hot-tempered manager into the mix and should we really be surprised there is occasional carnage at Carrington?
Millionaires they might be, but lads are lads, so win, lose or draw you can be sure that someone, somewhere within the testosterone-thick environment is having some kind of tear-up.
And most gaffers wouldn’t have it any other way.
During my days at Arsenal, Ian Wright (the teaser) and Martin Keown (the teased) were pulled apart more often than Ali and Frasier, and all George Graham or Bruce Rioch could do was look on and smile. As characters Wrighty and Martin were chalk and cheese, but these two players shared a winning mentality and passionate desire to succeed, and the pair never lost their respect for one another despite the occasional training ground wrestle. It was probably, even if they won’t admit it, a secret unspoken sign of affection.
The most successful teams I was part of always had players who were prepared to speak up in front of the group. As a youngster I tried to keep myself to myself but even so, if I ever felt a team-mate had unfairly ‘dug me out’ in front of everyone I’d always stand my ground.
In cut-throat professional football land, self-protectionism is a necessity, so you quickly learn it’s best to fight fire with fire, so long as you’re not on shaky ground. If you don’t, you will be squashed and ruthlessly trodden into the turf.
If reports emanating from Manchester City suggested it was a deathly quiet working environment I’d be fearful for Roberto Mancini’s future.
When players burned inwardly it usually means they’ve lost respect for the manager, feeling instead that it’s more worthwhile venting their fury privately, or in dressing room cliques. He (the manager) won’t be here much longer, so what’s the point?
The day a dressing room falls quiet - when no one has a beef they wish to share - is the day a team is in trouble.
While open debate is a sign of rood health within a club, the manager does need to stay in control.
The best coaches possess a sixth sense which tells them when it’s right to give a platform to the players, and when it’s essential to take the stand themselves.
Give the players too much say and there can be anarchy, so the final word always has to come from the gaffer.
Manchester City aren’t playing well, but it isn’t because the players have stopped trying for Mancini.
There is clearly an element of frustration at his strange obsession with mixing up the team formation, as Micah Richards exposed before being rapidly shot down. And the Italian’s rotation of strikers and reluctance to stick with a settled defensive rear guard will also probably create divided opinion in the dressing room.
Motivation might also be at the heart of their indifferent form. When you’ve expended as much energy as City did when ending their long wait for a title last term - whether they realise it or not - the early stages of the next campaign were never going to get their heart rates up to the same kind of levels. With every high, there is always a down.
It’s Mancini’s job to revive those passions now, and it’s up to him to sensibly control and manage the colossal egos that take to the field in his name.
After hearing of dressing room bust-ups at Man City its way too easy to claim that must be the reason behind City’s – albeit not that disastrous – slump. Ah, the players are unhappy so they must be rebelling against Mancini. No. In my view the players are still fighting for him, and the escalating number of spectacular comebacks they’ve produced already this term prove they’re prepared to dig in for the boss.
You don’t win a Premier League title without talent, but you don’t win it with a bunch of players who don’t get on either.
A little bit of debate, and even a smidgen of in-fighting is no bad thing. It’s when they stop talking to each other that Roberto Mancini will really have something to worry about.