In his Sun column today, Harry Redknapp has stated that “Manager’s don’t have any power” and that “all the power in football these days lies with the top players”. But in the current football world, is this a situation that can ever been altered, and if so, is it something modern football clubs would want to change?
Although the Wayne Rooney saga has seemingly abated, with the 24 year-old signing a new 5 year deal with Manchester United, this does not mean the debate surrounding ‘player power’ will subside.
Many have pointed to the Bosman and Webster rulings by FIFA as enhancing ‘player power’, but these rulings are more a consequence of modern football rather than a cause of increased individual power within the game. It is perhaps too early to examine the ramifications of the Webster ruling, having only come into effect in 2006, but the Bosman ruling has mainly concerned lesser players, like its namesake, Jean-Marc Bosman, and has prevented clubs exploiting these individuals, with only a handful of high-profile Bosman transfers in its 15 year existence.
It is perhaps in the genesis of the Webster ruling however, that we can begin to ascertain not only the modern origins of ‘player power’, but also the relationship modern football players have with their respective clubs.
Ever since the Bosman ruling of 1995, the European Commission had been closely following FIFA’s transfer policy, lobbying the world footballing body to bring their transfer system, specifically, but not exclusively, their guidelines on the freedom of movement of players, into line with other industries. It is here, in the terminology of ‘other industries’ that we can gauge some players’ seemingly unapologetic self-importance.
This essentially meant that the EC saw football as an industry, the football clubs as businesses and the players as employees, and although the supporters still attached the highest level of emotion to the game, this is precisely the perception modern football clubs wanted to present to the world; that football was a business.
The corporate circuses that are modern football competitions, clubs and even stadia can be presented in stark contrast to the footballing landscape 20 years ago. But in the creation of the Premier League, England set the precedent for football to become the financial colossus that it is today, threatening to destroy itself with its own enormity. Now I am not saying the creation of the Premier League has been detrimental to the standard of football or the quality of the game, but with vast media revenues and endorsements up to their eyeballs, the modern footballer is a commodity to a football club without even mentioning success or silverware. So is it any wonder that some players are treating their clubs with such disrespect and disloyalty?
Players like Wayne Rooney are of a post-formation of Premier League and post-Bosman era, they are also post the, what Harry Redknapp calls, “I’m going to stick Joe Bloggs in the reserves and let him rot” era. All they have known is football as a global financial industry, and football clubs as businesses, they were signed as fiscal commodities, and they treat their clubs as employers. If the clubs are not fulfilling their respective end of the bargain, the players up sticks and leave, as in any other industry, and the managers fall somewhere in the middle of this debacle, trying to balance, juggle and please everyone, all of the time.
As Chris Coleman recently noted, football bosses have to manage up, as well as down, referring to the fact in football management you have to think as much about your relationship with the board as you do with the players. This is nothing new, but reemphasises that many managers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to create a sense of loyalty around a club whilst proving themselves to be financially viable in their own role.
If we see the board-manager-player relationship in a warped hierarchy, with those on the ground and at the top having more power than the man in the middle, we can view how it is quite often the manager that is more expendable than anyone else. This isn’t necessarily the case with every manager and many, like Sir Alex Ferguson, have built a reputation for themselves at a club and are very often on an equal footing with both board and players, as has been shown in Sir Alex’s handling of the Wayne Rooney affair. But having seen Rooney throw his weight around, it is clear that even the likes of Ferguson can be shaken.
Top players will always be in command and control of their own futures, but with a new breed of financially conscious football players coming through, it won’t be long before more mediocre players are pulling a stunt like Rooney. As for whether this ‘player power’ situation can be altered or reversed; this is highly unlikely unless the self-sufficient financial snowball that is modern football crashes and burns. However, as for whether modern football clubs would want the situation changed, well, with the exception of clubs with less monetary or global clout, I can’t see why these businesses would want anything but what essentially equates to a footballing free market economy, where the trading of goods has as limited restraint on it as possible. While this is the case ‘player power’ will continue and grow, unchecked and unabated.