What is the best way to manage them in football?
The age old question often posed to managers all over the world is ‘just how do you go about controlling and getting the best out of a genius’, and with dressing rooms at big clubs plied full of egos and different personalities, it can sometimes feel like a juggling act, but is there any one route to success in this case?
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo most definitely comes under the bracket of ‘genius’. He’s a freak of nature; powerful, elegant, boasting outstanding technique, fantastic in the air and on the ground. Nevertheless, despite hitting 165 goals in 163 games for the Spanish giants, he remains a tricky player to handle and keep happy, with a petulance bordering on the irrational considering how talented and pivotal he is to the side.
Many will say it’s that very same desire for perfection which drives him to new heights, and that if you take it out of him, you lose one of the motivating forces which makes him such a special player. At the end of his career, Ronaldo will quite rightly be placed in the top 10 players of all-time, and had he been born in any other era he’d be recognised as comfortably the best player in the world, which is a difficult task when competing alongside Lionel Messi.
Nevertheless, earlier on in the campaign, there were genuine worries in Madrid that Ronaldo could be heading for the exit door after he complained after one particular sulky performance: “I’m sad – when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy. It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy.”
Of course, when you look at who he could practically move to, the list is probably reserved only to Manchester United or at a push City, but neither would be able to afford him and comply with the Financial Fair Play regulations at the same time, so the risk was minimal if there ever was one at all. The reason for the falling out? The most widely accepted explanation was that the club hadn’t significantly backed him in the same way publicly that Barcelona backs its stars for awards such as the Ballon d’Or, which left Ronaldo not feeling ‘valued’. As storms in a teacup go, this one would take some beating and the only flaw in his game are the problems that he seemingly creates for himself.
Having captained a team at university level at football myself, I know the difficulties in having to manage players, particularly ones that are better than me and it’s a balancing act that I simply didn’t fully appreciate at first. Some players react well to an arm around the shoulder while others get fired up when you bark orders at them and there’s not one blanket rule in getting a player to perform as well as you know they can. Trying to rule with the Fabio Capello-esque iron grip simply didn’t work for everyone, even if it made us hard to beat.
QPR have a mercurial player in Adel Taarabt, who while not quite a genius, is still a match-winner on his day and as close as they have to one at Loftus Road. Mark Hughes found a tough time in getting him to perform consistently each and every week, just as Neil Warnock did after getting the side promoted to the top flight.
What are the chances that under Harry Redknapp (come on, it’s inevitable), a manager that he had a fractious relationship with at Tottenham in the past, that he goes on a good run of form after being told to ‘just run around a bit’, the sort of instruction right out of the Mike Bassett school of management that Redknapp seems to subscribe to. But it’s precisely that sort of thinking that has made Redknapp successful, focusing on what the players can do well while not overburdening them with responsibility and providing them with the freedom to make the most of their creative platform. Tinkering with the mindest of an individual can have a completely different response, even if in this case it is hypothetical, yet realistic at the same time.
These fine lines are all concerning a player’s questionable temperament, heck, even Paul Scholes, often lauded as a consummate professional, retired from international duty with England because he was played slightly out of position on the left of midfield due to the Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard axis in the middle of the park. He even refused to play in a League Cup tie against Arsenal back in 2001 because he felt it was beneath him. Successive England managers have practically begged Scholes to come out of retirement since, but he’s refused, choosing to concentrate on his club career, which seems a move partly born out of spite towards the national team set-up.
Now I’m not for a second trying to argue that Scholes wasn’t well within his rights to take that course of action, but it all came about because he wasn’t handled properly and assured of his importance in the England fold by Sven Goran Eriksson. The 38-year-old is the best British player of his generation, who possesses the flaw of being quite possibly the most consistently woeful tackler in Premier League history, but what he can do with the ball marks him out as a genius, and an unlikely prima donna at times too it would seem.
Cast your mind back to the World Cup final in 1998 and the sight of Brazilian striker Ronaldo, the best out-and-out forward that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, trudging around the pitch to little effect on the largest of stages was genuinely shocking and upsetting. A worldwide phenomenon collapsed under the weight of expectation and suffered from a convulsive fit the night before the biggest game of his career.
The scramble prior to kick-off, with some team-sheets stating that the 22-year-old, who had already scored five goals in the tournament was starting, and others mysteriously claiming that he wasn’t, left plenty of people in a state of panic and must have had an effect on the rest of the Brazil side prior to their 3-0 defeat to France. Reports have since surfaced that Ronaldo may have been forced to play, despite obviously not being in the right physical and mental state and clearly in distress, by boot manufacturer Nike, who sought to make the most of their poster boy playing on the biggest stage of all. This was a perfect example of how not to manage a player and the fact that he wasn’t protected more is not only disturbing, but just plain wrong by any modern moral standard and its exploitation of the very worst kind if it is true.
Gauging the personality of an individual is a difficult matter to approach and tackle, and managers have to be accountable for the actions of their mollycoddled players all of the time, which can sometimes provide more headaches than it does solutions, as Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli at Manchester City only serves to highlight.
Moreover, a flawed genius is normally only ever considered as much due to an innate personality flaw – Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo are two sublime individual players, yet both threw their toys out of the pram over fairly trivial issues due to their doubts over their own worth, which will go down as a confidence issue, being insecure when there is simply no need to be.
Without trying to stray too far into amateur psychology, there is no correct way to manage a flawed genius, some need to be told that they are the best player in the side all of the time, such as Dimitar Berbatov, and be aware of how integral they are, while others such as Lionel Messi respond to structure and order more than any other underlying principle.
Getting the best out of a flawed genius, though, whether in terms of ability or personality on a consistent basis is the most important thing, and tailoring your techniques to the individual is the only way forward, otherwise you simply end up with poorly massaged egos, underperforming players and a dressing room in uproar. Now, which Premier League club does that remind me of? I wonder.