The release of The Damned United and another read over Duncan Hamilton’s excellent ‘Provided you Don’t Kiss Me’, got me thinking.
Not that no manager will ever quite compare to the charismatic Brian Clough. They won’t, so it’s probably not worth trying. But it got me analysing how power has shifted in football.
In Clough’s era, the manager was the boss and the players knew that. While at Nottingham Forest, he presided over the transfer of Trevor Francis, making him the first million pound footballer. In fact the transfer fee was intentionally £1 short of that landmark (although it topped a million after taxes) as Clough wanted to ensure the fee did not go to the player’s head.
On another occasion, Clough asked a young Nigel Jemson if he’d ever been punched in the stomach. When he replied in the negative, Clough did just that, following it up with the remark, “Now you have son”.
To Clough, the manager was the be all and end all and the players merely a tool at his disposal, although not quite the slaves that Sepp Blatter infamously eluded to last season.
That outburst of course was linked to Cristiano Ronaldo’s alleged desire last summer to quit Manchester United, who refused to do business on the grounds the Portuguese winger was still under contract. That Ronaldo had just scored 42 goals to help United secure a Premiership and Champions League double was probably a key component of the “not for sale” statement.
Whether Ronaldo, who is paid a reported £150,000 a week, should be making such demands caused mass debate among Europe’s football followers. But one thing agreed on was that footballers held the power both in the dressing room and at the contract negotiation table.
As a collaborative force, their power is unnerving. Chelsea players, upset by Jose Mourniho’s departure, admitted they couldn’t take to his successor Avram Grant – sacked after leading Chelsea to a second place domestic finish and a penalty away from Champions League glory. Worse still, his successor Luiz Felipe Scolari was dismissed after ‘losing’ the changing room, or more realistically falling out with the wrong players.
Players hold the trump card, but for how long?
Potentially, not very. You don’t need a degree in economics to realise the world is not what it was. Unemployment across the globe is rife, and set to worsen further in 2009. And when it comes to issuing season ticket renewals, chairmen may just realise once and for all that no matter who’s in charge or who’s on the pitch, it is the man in the stands who holds all the power.
While booing can never been condoned, fans who spend their [extremely] hard earned cash travelling up and down the country to follow their beloved team will justifiably want a return on their investment. “Manager Out” chants will hold more weight if it’s backed up with desertion.
Admittedly football will never truly return to the working-class communities that Clough so adored, but the power has shifted back to the terraces.
And while we won’t quite be punching that left winger in the gut for another poor cross, we – the fans – will be heard.