Football: Wilson the cool head in world of egotism

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The Independent Online
DESIST, FOR a moment, from the use of the word "arrogant'. Instead, recall the actions of Sheffield Wednesday's Benito Carbone last Saturday and consider what an extraordinary (perhaps gruesome) portion of self- belief underpinned them. Having done so - as well as joining the general jeer of disapproval - don't you feel just a modicum of envy?

Carbone - lest you missed the story - was asked by his manager to sit among the substitutes at the start of a Premiership match against Southampton. Piqued by the very suggestion (and disregarding the longer-term plan that he should be sprung on the Saints as a second-half match-winner), the Italian took flight.

His subsequent apology and pledge to return to Hillsborough do lend a flavour of humility to the episode. Wednesday will fine him and make that "the end of the matter'. However, in the spur of that unfortunate South Coast moment, Carbone (like - to varying extents - Ravanelli, Emerson, Van Hooijdonk et al before him) was like an employee telling his boss one or more of several things:

1) I am so good that I must always play THE prominent part in the implementation of company strategy.

2) I KNOW I am so good that, if you fail to comply with (1), I will simply go away and it is your company who will suffer.

3) Sack me if you like. Actually, that might be what I want [Carbone is on the transfer-list, having refused to sign a new contract in the close season. His current deal runs until the end of this season]. There are loads of other companies (possibly bigger and better ones than yours) who can see how good I am and will offer me a job instead.

4) In summary, you need me much more than I need you. What are you going to do about it?

For most of us this is pure fantasy. Imagine having such a profound belief in your own talents that you are confident to use their withdrawal as a sanction against your employer. Imagine the warm security you would derive from the certainty of being irreplaceable at your current workplace and coveted at numerous others. Above all - and this is the one about which all but the most fortunate have had daydreams - imagine going into work one day and, after the merest provocation, telling the boss where to stick his job.

For a little while, Carbone lived that dream. None of it does him any credit. But the irksome truth is threefold. First, his conduct, though unpleasant, was incredibly enviable. Second, he's right; he IS Wednesday's greatest playing asset (Trevor Brooking said so on Match of the Day, so it must be so). Third, somebody (whether Wednesday or not) WILL employ him and pay him handsomely.

Now change sides and consider what it must be like for the boss. An episode like this could undermine his authority within the organisation. Overt attempts to patch up differences with the errant star may result in accusations of favouritism. Failure to make the peace will certainly result in the loss of a key employee. Meanwhile, the organisation has to continue about its daily business, burdened by the problem.

How on earth does one go about managing a predicament like this? It is to poor Danny Wilson (as honest, unpretentious and reasonable a gentleman as you could wish to meet in any walk of life) that that problem presented itself at a time when his own future is a hot topic for discussion.

Some have suggested that Wilson is at fault because "he shouldn't have left out Carbone in the first place". I'm sorry, but that misses the point. By all means debate a manager's tactical approach to any match, but don't deny him the right to pick the XI he wants. If Wilson decides that Carbone is going to be most effective coming off the bench to exploit tiring centre- halves, then - for better or worse - he should be able to insist on that approach without seeing his star player go into a strop. In fact, Wilson's coolly intelligent response seems to have done the trick. There is no better way to deflate a self-important individual than to make him feel dispensable. So, never mind that Carbone, with all that enviable self-assurance, is the best player at Sheffield Wednesday; when he expressed his intention to go home, the manager offered to drive him to the airport.

Should Wilson choose to go and meet the return flight, he might like to wait at arrivals with the board I saw pinned to the wall of a local bowls club recently. No professional, however talented or temperamental, is above the advice offered there: "Don't worry whether you're first pick or reserve. Be proud to be part of the club."

Peter Drury is an ITV football commentator