It sounds an obvious point, but there is a lot that can be learned from Alex Ferguson, clearly in terms of tactics and the power of desire when it comes to the longevity of your tenure, but in other aspects too. Ferguson is criticised for very little, but you do hear moaning from some United fans regarding the way in which certain players were forced out of the club. Beckham, Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy were all unceremoniously cut out of the fold at Old Trafford and whilst arguably they were excommunicated for personal disagreements between themselves and the Glaswegian I think there is a sub plot that is more important.
There were some interesting comments that I heard recently from former Chelsea manager Phil Scolari. He claimed that he had just picked the wrong fights with the wrong Chelsea players, which lead to his demise at the west London club. Scolari told the Daily Mail:
“[When there are problems] who do the teams prefer to sack? The stars – who earn four to nine million Euros a year with contracts of up to five seasons – or the coach? Of course, the first to be dismissed will always be the coach. And the major footballers already perceive their power and do what they wish. This was my major problem at Chelsea. Drogba, Ballack and Cech did not accept my methods of training nor my demands.”
Scolari also revealed that Ballack and Drogba had been claiming a suspicious number of injuries and were subsequently asking for leave back to their home countries. Clearly this would be a massive problem at any club but at Chelsea in particular it has clearly been a bit of a problem ever since Mourinho left. The players have liked some managers and have made it perfectly clear that they disliked others. The power of players within clubs should not be underestimated; after all however important the manager may be the players are the clubs main financial assets. They have a position of power that goes beyond what should be the normal reach of their influence.
To have disruptions like this coming from some of the most important players in the team is by no means an inevitability, but it is hardly surprising either. With that in mind suddenly Ferguson’s decisions to cut influential but troublesome players like Keane, Heinze and van Nistelrooy out of the team seems a smart move indeed. Despite the huge sporting loss that goes with selling such players when it is for the benefit and growth of the team perhaps it is for the best.
I would even go so far as to say that even if the biggest players at the club don’t intentionally cause trouble they can harm the spirit and competency of the rest of the team. Take Thierry Henry for example. I must admit it was a slap in the face when he left. But just a season later Arsenal was as close to winning the league as they have been since 2004. In his last year at the club the other players felt as though they had to pass to him all the time; his sale liberated so many other players and in particular Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie. The point I’m trying to make is that no matter how painful it is for your clubs heroes to leave, sometimes it is a necessity. Whether they are intentionally or unintentionally harming the squad there will always be a time with top players when they either no longer have a place in the side or are hindering the natural evolution of the squad and its style of play.
Clearly this is not the case with every player. Dennis Bergkamp or Ryan Giggs could never be accused of holding back their team, however it is a reality with a lot of big players and I think it is a problem that Chelsea have to recognise that they have at the moment. Nobody is saying that players like Drogba or Terry or Lampard are not still good players, they are, but perhaps it is time for either Abramovich or Andre Villas-Boas to recognise that they are holding back a new era at the club. As much as the spectre of Mourinho hangs over Chelsea that is only the perception because the squad is still the same. Chelsea need and want a fresh start, but it might not be a possibility without a fresh group of players. This problem is not specific to Chelsea, Liverpool had it with Torres, Arsenal had it with Henry and United have had it with many players over the years. It might appear a foolish thing to do but if Ferguson is brave enough to get rid of the best then so should all those who wish to emulate him.