Professionally Speaking: Never Forget Who's Boss


Lesson number one in football: don’t believe everything that the manager tells you.

I’m not talking about the dubious lines they feed the press. Those carefully-constructed porkies are subliminal (or mostly rather more straightforward) messages to the players or the board. It’s standard. So too are the blatant fibs they tell TV reporters in post-match interviews. “I haven’t seen the incident.” Yep. As if.

Managers lie. They have to; but especially to their players.

How could they possibly tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to 35 professionals and keep them all happy, while consistently only picking around half of them on a Saturday afternoon? It’s impossible.

For as long as they think they might need you, for as long as you still serve a potential purpose, gaffers will tell their prized assets pretty much anything they think they’ll want to hear just to pacify their complaints. It’s man-management. It’s psychology. It’s quite often utterly dishonest.

I knocked on the managers’ door plenty of times feeling angry and dragged down with a sense of injustice, only to emerge a few minutes later with a warm, optimistic glow, wondering if the boss wasn’t so bad after all.

Was I duped? Often yes, but that’s not the point.

Now that I’m no longer a player I see things much clearer. Without the foggy self-interest I can see the logic in these untruths. In a way they’re good lies.

After all, how could it help the team’s chances if you told the third choice striker he had more chance of appearing on the next series of Mastermind than he did getting a game at the weekend?

Hope is forever an irresistible tease. And by providing it, the managers are merely using a survival mechanism. They must look after themselves, as well as the team.

This is why Dimitar Berbatov was wrong to slam Sir Alex for his ‘treatment’ of him at Old Trafford. The Bulgarian reportedly asked Fergie ‘ten or 15’ times if he was needed and every time the Scot told him he was still important to Manchester United.

What else could he say? If Rooney, Welbeck or Hernandez got injured, suspended or suffered a dip in form he’d need his silky stroller to come back in and strut his stuff. It wasn’t even a lie: he was important, and soothing Berbatov’s aching head was a must.

That is until Fergie actually didn’t need him anymore. And it’s naïve for the Bulgarian not to understand that.

Most player-manager relationships are completely based on circumstances. If the talent is playing well, feels wanted and is winning, then he’ll think the boss is fantastic. And the sentiments will be mutual as the gaffer takes a keen and loving interest in his star man.

Flip it around to a time when results are poor, the player is out of the side and drained of confidence and that same manager will be despised. And the gaffer won’t give his out of sorts player a second thought either.

Managers are the masters. They are the controllers of every average pro footballer’s destiny.

The special players, the world’s best, don’t have to concern themselves with mood or favour. They’ll always land on their feet. And if they don’t take to a manager, all it requires is a few bad results, some negative vibes to leak out and Bob’s your Uncle, it’s they, not the player who are shown the door. We’ve seen it time and again.

However, the vast majority of professionals do have to accept their future lies in the hands of one under-pressure man. Performances are controllable of course, but it’s precarious when relying on another person’s taste. Put simply, it is a neccesity to try and keep them sweet.

Success also creates power. Just ask Berba. And this is why Swindon Town keeper Wes Foderingham was a complete dumb-ass to go mental at Paolo di Canio for substituting him midway through the first half of their defeat to Preston last Sunday.

Yes, Di Canio humiliated his number one. Yes, given the number of clean sheets he’s kept it was perhaps a tad impulsive. But the Italian sets the standards at Swindon and if Foderingham doesn’t meet them, why shouldn’t he be subbed?

The custodian’s public meltdown has merely given his manager the perfect excuse to find a quality replacement from somewhere else should he see fit. Having just won the title, and looking a good bet to push on in League One there will be plenty of interested keepers – and the board certainly aren’t going to sack the man that’s dragged them up in a hurry, either.

As both Berbatov and Foderingham have found out this week, a winning manager is a powerful manager. They have their players over a barrel.  

Which brings me nicely onto lesson number two in football: keep yourself in the gaffer’s good books.

Read more from former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke HERE