Not too long ago if a player stepped out of line at a football club they were swiftly beaten about the brow and shown the door or, if you we’re talking about Football Manager, forced to train as a goalkeeper and play with the under-16 side.
But as more money and subsequently more pressure is poured into the game managers are having to become patient with their superstars. Alex Ferguson built Manchester United on a foundation of himself and the club, if you acted like you were bigger than either you were off and it didn’t matter if you were captain. But suffering under a weakening squad and strengthening competitors even Fergie is changing his ways, the fact that Ronaldo and Ruud weren’t immediately drawn and quartered following their outbursts speaks volumes.
Wenger, for a few years now the model of the contemporary coach who puts as much emphasis on team spirit and harmony as anything else, has always showed patience with his spoilt chargers. It didn’t matter if they were fooled into admitting they wanted to leave, suffered severe bouts of the crazy’s or slandered the club in the press – they stayed if it meant Arsenal were more successful on the pitch.
As with seemingly everything in the Premiership these days, at least some of the rationale for change can be attributable to Chelsea. The London club is so strong that their rivals can’t really afford to lose key players for fear of losing ground, and their infinite spending means it’s even harder for the Uniteds, Arsenals and Liverpools to replace their stars. No longer can Sir Alex sell his Inces, Stams, Beckhams and Keanes and simply sign up a replacement – because Chelsea may step in or drive the price up to a point only they can afford.
But how about the supporters? Fans want to see players they can idolize out on the pitch who are giving blood and sweat for the badge – not those who want out but are simply there because they have to be. If Cole or Ronaldo do stay at their clubs, every error or bad decision will lead to their dedication to the club being questioned and maybe rightly so. To see players wearing the shirt of our beloved clubs under such conditions is pathetic.
It was nice when supporters could say that no player was bigger than their club and really mean it. But that’s gone the way of the flat 4-4-2.