A week football went mad

Alan Smith, of Crystal Palace, puts the emphasis on a player's mental strength: The Manager
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The Independent Online
THE POWER that a football managers has is probably as great as that of a politician. He is likely to get more media coverage than his local MP - I couldn't tell you who mine is, but I'm sure I get more chance to talk on television. So I don't agree when people say that football is a reflection of society: you can set standards because you have got so many people who will listen to you. While the supporters will act on the manager's words, he also has to make sure that his players get the message. Out on the pitch, I have always talked to mine about the mental strength they require. You've got to be strong to put up with the abuse, but I don't sit in the dug-out feeling sorry for them: they get a lot of credit when the going gets good and they are paid a lot of money.

If I feel any sympathy for anybody, it's for the young professional, because the fans may take time to accept him. The fans don't want to wait for 20 games - they like the ready-made stars. So I did sympathise with the likes of Salako, Shaw and Southgatewhen they arrived, and also for Ian Wright - the crowd didn't take quickly to him either.

These players all showed they have mental strength. Cantona showed he hasn't against us at Selhurst Park. Whenever he has had a problem, he runs away from it. So I probably wouldn't have taken him on. At Manchester United I may have, but he wouldn't fit in at a club like mine - I couldn't have anyone bigger than the club.

I always ask my players: "Have you got the humility to play for the team?" Cantona might have had that at Manchester United, but not here. And you must have everybody at the club behaving themselves; you cannot have a lout element, which we had when I was assistant manager here.

I've got 30 professionals, 20 apprentices and probably 100 associate schoolboys, all of whom listen to what I say, so the way I conduct myself will filter through. You have a responsibility to all. When we sign an associate schoolboy at the age of 14, I make a point of meeting his parents and telling them how I expect the boy to conduct himself. When he signs as an apprentice, I will explain the pitfalls: the money, the spare time he has, and the pop-star treatment he may receive. I get the local bank manager in to talk to them about an account and I will ask them if they want to start night-school - most of them don't, but we give them the option.

Also, besides having a club chaplain, I ask in various specialists at least once a month to talk to the whole club about things other than football: we've had a chartered accounts, doctors to talk about Aids - whatever. And all the players, no matter what age, have to work in the club shop - there is a rota - and they will have to go into local schools. It does have an effect on society and it also shows the players that there is another world out there.

I don't want to be dour with the players and I'm not looking for saints because saints won't make professional footballers; you need a bit of devilment.

We're off to Cyprus today and if the players want to drink all night, if they want to be in the disco all night with girls - as long as it's not upsetting anyone else - I'm not going to stop them. They're men and it does get a team spirit going. And whenit comes to the drinking, I will stay up with them as late as a 48-year-old can manage.