Football: Lunatics running asylum

The big advantage footballers possess over management is a curious reluctance on the part of the public and popular newspapers to hold them equally responsible for collective shortcomings.

Doubtless the Sheffield United manager, Dave Bassett, had this in mind last Saturday when responding to the displeasure a section of his club's supporters vehemently expressed following a home loss to Luton. 'It's easy to blame the directors and me but the players are accountable too,' is more or less what he went around protesting.

Echoing a sentiment Brian Clough privately observed as an important means of long-term survival in football management, Bassett was reported to have also said: 'What I must do is screw some of my players before they screw me.'

If, for reasons of philosophy and style, it has not always been possible to see eye to eye with Bassett, a personal inclination in this matter is to support him completely.

A suspicion may have crossed your mind that has certainly crossed the mind of many a troubled manager, but unfortunately gets too little attention in newspapers and on television.

It is that some footballers cannot be relied upon to always fulfill their obligations. This does not prevent them, often at the manager's expense, from exploiting to the full any favourable reviews that accrue in the course of a season.

For example, there is a player, locally popular in the Premiership, who gets by on occasional feats of stunning virtuosity that blind the public to his idleness. It comes as no surprise to learn that he regularly complains of ailments that defy diagnosis.

Going back to when management shamefully held all the cards, it was not unusual for players to be addressed in stentorian tones and frequently threatened with a spell of unemployment.

Once, when laying into his team, the legendary Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, Stan Cullis, noted a smirk on the face of the 12th man, an England international, Norman Deeley. 'As for you,' he snapped, 'you're not good enough to get a rollicking.'

A problem for managers today is that even half-decent players are so thin on the ground that generally they are immune to embarrassment and can afford to be choosy. No matter how dedicated the management, there is no guarantee that they will always pull together. 'Those who can play a bit know that if things don't work out here they'll get big money somewhere else,' a manager recently said to me.

Managers gain the confidence and respect of players by proving themselves superior in knowledge and alert to trickery. The most successful practitioners are those who play all the angles before the angles start playing them.

Publicly, Matt Busby was perceived to be an avuncular, easy-going figure, but there wasn't a stroke he hadn't come across or an excuse he hadn't heard before. This applied equally to Cullis, Jock Stein, Alf Ramsey, Bill Shankly, Bill Nicholson and Don Revie. Nobody took liberties with them.

The job has been made more difficult by escalating wages, a dearth of talent and the commercial attention football receives.

Hence, a great deal of sympathy can be held out for those managers whose prospects appear bleak. Unquestionably they have made mistakes. But who is going to do better?

For purposes of morale, they refrain from castigating players in public, but this may be loose thinking on their part. Better, perhaps, to follow Bassett's example and bring an irrefutable truth into the open. It is that players should not be allowed to hedge their responsibility at the customer's discretion.

The policy of some critics is to lean heavily on managers and coaches as a form of public service, holding them entirely responsible for failure.

The opinion held here is that it would be doing the game a considerable service if they swapped bullets for buckshot.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn