This weekend Manchester City face Hull City. A meeting of two teams with vastly different aims for the season, it is eight years since Phil Brown took the infamous decision to give his Premier League half-time team talk on the pitch. A decision that has haunted Brown’s career ever since and been replayed countless times throughout the following years.
Hull are in a similarly tricky situation this season. Rooted to the foot of the Premier League table with only two points from their last six Premier League matches, Mike Phelan’s side look far short of the quality required to retain their Premier League status. Defensively they have been resolute at times, but in possession, the Tigers have looked chronically short of ideas. Even when they have created chances – as they did on a number of occasions against Manchester City last time out – there is an inability to convert them.
Phelan is a different, calmer character to Brown. A repeat of the on-pitch team talk is about as likely as an Adama Diomande hat-trick. Although Brown’s decision was heavily criticised and became a figure of mockery, the method behind his madness was evident. An attempt to show the fans that the players cared and rouse a response from his group of Premier League misfits; it may not have worked, but the logic is clear.
Sometimes such crude managerial means bring about desirable ends. Calling players out in the press or openly criticising their desire is a method used commonly by some managers. Clumsy in its application, the results can often be beneficial. In fact, some managers have little else in their armoury than autocratic confrontation to their players. It is a short-term, high-risk fix. There is a place for such managerial ideas, even in the modern footballing world. Players’ mentalities have naturally changed through the years – making this tactic a riskier one – but many players will still provide a response.
It is evidently a diminishing move for managers, though. An increasing number of players will react unfavourably to public criticism. Some will still be fired up by questions over their fitness or commitment, but it is not a ploy that a manager can rely on if they are planning to succeed anywhere on a long-term basis. Players will tire of it and eventually rebel.
For sides in the heat of an intense relegation fight, though, it is a viable option for Premier League bosses. Perhaps not quite as brutally as Brown did eight years ago, mind. In other instances, however, teams need their confidence built. Hull are, as hurtful as it may be, not underperforming at this point. Phelan’s troubles, just as Brown’s did, run much deeper than a motivational issue at this stage.