For most of the UK football loving fraternity, a Sunday afternoon spent in front of the TV with a few cans is just the ticket. Premier League fare can be a little hit and miss, but the standard of punditry continues to elevate the offering and inform the discussion amongst supporters. Love or loathe Jose Mourinho, he’s beyond reproach as far as his level of insight is concerned. Ditto Gary Neville. Just recently, however, there’s tended to be a little more criticism towards both Graeme Souness and Roy Keane, a lot of it rooted in their views of modern footballers and because of the type of players they were.
Social media is awash with ‘experts’ who believe that that pair belong in the past, and that their views are no longer relevant in the modern game. That the ‘hard man’ is from a bygone era and bully boy tactics from managers also need to stay in the past. Whilst it’s true that the world has moved on, and mental health in particular isn’t something to be dismissed out of hand, it’s also true that today’s manager has seen his authority weaken to the point of not really being able to wield influence in some cases. If we go back to the Sir Alex Ferguson days at Manchester United, it was abundantly clear who was the boss. Nothing other than winning mattered to the dour Scot, and it’s precisely that mentality that was instilled in his players, such as Keane, and which made them serial winners.
Taking a look at United’s current squad, there isn’t one player that would get in a Fergie side. Not one. It’s said that the ‘modern’ manager has to be all things to all of his staff. Father, educator, coach etc. But wasn’t that precisely what Fergie was to all of the players that came through the Old Trafford doors whilst he was in charge?
Mourinho has lost some of the lustre he had since arriving in the English game but, as we saw with the incident between the Portuguese and Paul Pogba, any influence the Special One thought he had was diluted by the messages that were coming out of the club. It was a situation that ultimately led to his downfall too, but was it fair that he was undermined? Would there have been as much scrutiny in his methods if the Red Devils were doing well under his tutelage?
At what point is ‘going too far’ nowadays and is it really true that today’s twenty-something footballers are the ‘snowflake generation’? Should we really be treading on eggshells around them and pandering to the whims of those earning hundreds of thousands of pounds per week?
It’s as if they’re unable to put up with any type of constructive criticism, let alone the ‘hairdryer’ treatment. There doesn’t have to be a continued show of machismo to get one’s point across of course, but surely words and actions have to carry significant enough weight to ensure the appropriate tone and that the message is received loud and clear?
Recently, Liverpool played at Old Trafford in what is one of the Premier League’s fiercest rivalries. Or shoud we say was one of the fiercest. In the tunnel before the match, it was all high-fives and hugs, laughing and joking.
Keane remarked on it after the game. Those sorts of encounters are when you go to war. It’s the only way to properly describe them. A war. And yet it felt nothing like it. Picture Arsenal and United in the Highbury tunnel when Messrs. Keane and Vieira were in their pomp. That kind of passion is not only what punters want to see, but it’s how fired up players should be, and yet you barely see any of that any more.
Even in the Champions League recently, commentators remarked on Slavia Prague’s manager telling reporters in his pre-match press conference that his players were arguing amongst themselves as to who would be nearest Lionel Messi by the final whistle so that they could swap shirts. Can you imagine that sort of behaviour being tolerated by Sir Alex, who famously kicked a boot at David Beckham after a below par performance, which came about because of a focus on his private life and Victoria rather than what he was paid to do – perform on the pitch.
Let’s be clear. Times change, people change with it, and that’s accepted.
New haircuts, ridiculous dance routines and generally acting like a bit of a pratt shouldn’t really matter, but the fact that it’s all over social media in an instant, as well as a general need for oversharing, is what’s part of the problem.
A manager’s hands being tied for fear of overstepping the mark in such a politically correct age doesn’t help matters either, but it’s still a man’s game. The modern day footballer just seems a little too precious, but it isn’t wrong to deliver some old school practices and adopt those attitudes occasionally is it?