Comment: ECB could learn how to handle 'difficult' players from the way Tim Sherwood has dealt with Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham

Sherwood has massaged Adebayor’s ego, picked him and played to his strengths

The day was cold and wet, the venue distant and dilapidated. As we began changing, Dave, our manager, gathered the boots of Ted and Cab, threw them out of the window, and said: “You won’t be needing those lads. You’re not playing.” The pair had failed to turn up the previous week, having enjoyed a lively Saturday night. Neither had driven to this match so they had to wait while the remaining 11 played.

Ted was our best player, by a distance, but that cut no ice. Whatever the level, loyalty to the team counts. In the soundbite beloved of some coaches: “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

But, there is an “I” in “winning” and, in professional sport, it is not the taking part that matters most, it is the winning.

While the England and Wales Cricket Board and its lawyers were drafting their carefully worded character assassination of Kevin Pietersen, across north London Emmanuel Adebayor was scoring his seventh goal in 11 matches since being recalled by Tim Sherwood, securing another victory for Tottenham. When this news reached Lord’s the more astute might have pondered: “Isn’t Adebayor another gifted but difficult bloke who keeps falling out with the management? Seems to be happy enough now.”

It takes all sorts to make a successful dressing room and the best players are often the hardest to handle. When dealing with them the art of good management is knowing where to draw the line, not drawing it inflexibly, and getting the rest of the team to accept some players do deserve special treatment. Neil Warnock has described on these pages how he indulged Adel Taarabt at Queen’s Park Rangers, noting a key aspect was getting senior pros like Clint Hill and Sean Derry to assent. As he told them, “You may not like how he behaves, but we won’t get in the Premier League without him.” Taarabt once turned up shortly before a game having gone missing for several days. Warnock asked goalkeeper Paddy Kenny what he should do. “Play him, gaffer, he’ll win us the game.” And he did.

Sherwood inherited a player who had been frozen out by Andre Villas-Boas primarily for questioning his authority – much as Pietersen seems to have done with Andy Flower and Alastair Cook. To judge from his time at Chelsea, Villas-Boas is prone to making enemies, but so is Adebayor. He has not only fallen out with Nicklas Bentdner and Roberto Mancini, which is easy enough to do, but also Arsène Wenger, Robin van Persie, Vincent Kompany and Harry Redknapp. And those are the ones we know about.

Adebayor is high-maintenance. But when his mood is right he is as good a centre-forward as any. Sherwood is not an arm-round-the-shoulder manager, but he has publicly massaged Adebayor’s ego, picked him, and played to his strengths. If Adebayor is partly driven by a desire to prove Villas-Boas and others wrong – as his comments suggest – Sherwood will not mind as long as he keeps doing so.

And this is the crux. Difficult players are tolerated as long as they perform. Warnock left out Taarabt after QPR were promoted because his performances dipped. So have Pietersen’s. His status as England’s highest run-maker (in all forms of the game) is less significant than his declining average. However, so abject were his team-mates he still topped the averages in Australia.

Pietersen has always been a man apart. After England won the 2005 Ashes Trent Bridge Test I had the fortune of spending some time with the victorious team. Geraint Jones had been having a difficult series but he was very much at the centre of events and it was easy to see why he had kept his place, as the wicketkeeper is a key player in team harmony. After a while we left the team to it and we went to a bar next door. Where we found Pietersen, celebrating separately. So what? A few weeks later he secured the Ashes at The Oval and everyone loved KP.

Eight years on, many still do but not, it seems, at ECB HQ. Cook has evidently decided he cannot handle Pietersen and the new managing director and head of selectors have backed the captain without waiting for the incoming team coach, or for the World Twenty20, which Cook is not playing in. The coach for that tournament, Ashley Giles, had praised Pietersen’s value, but must now do without him.

It is a horrible mess. No one is suggesting Pietersen is easy to deal with, but the hurried manner of his axing suggests a failure of leadership. It is England’s fortune that this summer’s visitors, India and Sri Lanka, travel so badly they will probably get away with it for now, but the affair confirms the sense that Cook’s England cricket team is a functional one, which values solidity above genius and whose victories, when they next arrive, will be grinding rather than exhilarating.

Don’t compare Olympians with ‘overpaid’ footballers

The hills are alive with the sound of happy Olympians delivering refreshing interviews, which means within days the op-ed columns will be full of unflattering comparisons with our cliché-ridden, monosyllabic and overpaid (don’t forget overpaid) footballers. Expose those Olympic athletes to year-round scrutiny of every sentence or foible, pay them millions of pounds, surround them with hangers-on, agents and press officers, and then see how many remain innocent and charming. Rugby and cricket are already beginning to show signs of the mix of (understandable) wariness and (unforgivable) contempt that comes with money and attention. Athletes, whether footballers or snowboarders, are all human, and as such subject to the caprice of human nature.

Upsets are part of the beauty of the beautiful game

By all measures of superiority except the most crucial Manchester United dominated Fulham at the weekend as utterly as England dominated Scotland. But while rugby is a game in which controlling territory and possession nearly always results in victory, because the defence has to protect 70 metres’ width, in football an inferior team can succeed through heroic defence, good fortune, and a couple of moments of  brilliance such as that displayed by Lewis Holtby. Which is why upsets are more common in football. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether you believe the best team should always win.

Suggested Topics
Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Lily Allen performs on stage at Splendour In the Grass 2014 on 27 July, 2014, in Byron Bay, Australia
people
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Sport
Manny Pacquiao lands a blow on Chris Algieri
Pacquiao retains WBO welterweight title – and says he wants Mayweather next
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin