Player power doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Or two, if you’re being pernickety.
The term instantly throws up images of cash-thirsty agents and superstar clients throwing their weight around unpleasantly, demanding X, Y and Z - or else - to said footballer’s employer. And it happens. If a key player (egged on by his representative) feels he has the clout to hold his club to ransom to get a better deal, he’ll do it. It’s a short career.
This isn’t the type of ‘player power’ I want to discuss today. Instead, I’d like to focus on a more positive interpretation of the phrase, and one that was used to good effect by Everton this week.
According to Romelu Lukaku, various members of the Toffees dressing room pleaded with Roberto Martinez to let them tweak their style against West Ham in the FA Cup.
Perhaps feeling opponents have sussed out their patient, short passing approach, and guided by the frustration of Lukaku - who hasn’t received the service he thrives on this term – the group plucked up courage to ‘have a word’ with the boss.
“We have a great relationship (with the manager). We all said to the manager: ‘Can we play a bit more direct sometimes?’” revealed the Belgian after their 1-1 draw on Tuesday.
“We have a style of play where we keep the ball a lot, but knew we needed to take more responsibility, play to my strengths more. We mixed up how we played and at times we were a bit more direct. It was very pleasing to see my team-mates looking for me and playing to my strengths.”
That’s interesting to hear, but Everton’s players and Roberto Martinez’s have also gone up in my estimation too.
Why? Because they clearly care about doing well, have shared intelligent thought about their own performances - and the manager himself has been wise enough to take their views on board.
The old fashioned ‘it’s my way or the highway approach’ works for some, but from my experience the atmosphere within a squad is better when players feel their voices are also being heard. Dressing room democracy (providing the manager is firm and decisive with how he handles it) is very much a positive thing.
I’ve witnessed tons of player/manager bust-ups, with both men insisting they’re right and the other is wrong, but no one wins. The player becomes disaffected, and the manager can come across as stubborn and pig-headed in front of everyone else.
As long as it’s aired respectfully, any manager would be silly to turn a blind eye to an issue his players want to address. If something isn’t working, they will probably know about it before the manager, and so they should. They are the ones at the coalface.
In 1996/97 Arsene Wenger agreed to stick with three at the back, a system he inherited as Arsenal boss. Tony Adams and other senior pros felt it would work better for the team to persist with that formation short term, and Wenger, who didn’t love that system, chose to listen. Once he’d signed more players the following summer, they went back to a 442 and no one complained. In fact, they went on to win the Double.
As long as the conversation doesn’t become a chaotic free-for-all (I’ve sat through some of those meetings) it’s healthy for players and the manager to discuss tactics on occasion together.
The theory is a simple one. If a footballer is involved in the decision-making and he likes that decision, the chances of him doing a better job are increased.
Everton’s league position isn’t great, but at least they have a thoughtful group of professionals that want to work together for a common goal. I have confidence they’ll improve between now and the end of May.
Read more from ex-Arsenal winger Adrian Clarke