Jose Mourinho encountered a problem all managers face at some stage: what do you do when a key player misses training? In Jose’s case he dropped Eden Hazard from Chelsea’s Champions League tie on Wednesday.
He did the right thing. There is no point fining players on the wages Chelsea pay. That won’t hurt. What will hurt is missing a big match and at a club like Chelsea there is always the risk your replacement plays so well you lose your place.
Having a squad that strong does make it easier to drop someone. There have been a few occasions when players have let me down and you have to balance the need to be strong with the demands of getting a result on the day, while also taking into account the long-term impact.
There are a couple of times in recent years when I have been tolerant. At Crystal Palace we brought in Anthony Stokes on loan. He was a likeable lad, though a bit of a rogue. He had been bombed out at Sunderland by Roy Keane after he missed the team bus for a match. He had been with us a few weeks when he did the same to us. I told the bus to go and he had to make his own way to the ground. When he arrived I gave a him a major telling-off and told him he’d better perform, or else. He played well.
On the Monday I hauled him into my office. I said to him it would be easy to send him back to Sunderland and make public why. He hadn’t been playing that well and it would save me some money. After what happened with Roy I doubted he’d get another club. He agreed.
I said: “Any other manager would probably do that, and to hell with your career, but I’m going to keep you. You will play, but you have to sort yourself out. If you don’t, there is only one way your career will go.”
I’ve kept an eye on him since and watched him when up in Scotland. I’d like to think at Celtic he has found his club at last. He has signed a new deal and his contribution has been super. I think he has matured as a person and definitely in his performances.
Another example of this was Adel Taarabt. With him I probably did everything a manager shouldn’t because I knew he would get QPR promotion. I said to him: “You’ll never play as well for someone else as you have with me.” I know he’s said he wants to prove me wrong but I don’t think any other manager will indulge him the same way – and get the rest of the team to buy into it.
One week he had twice missed training after being away with Morocco, first claiming I’d given him a day off, then that he was ill. Then he turned up for our match with Sheffield United and said he wanted to play. As I was discussing this with him at Loftus Road our goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, came in. I asked Paddy what he thought.
“I’d play him, gaffer. He’ll win us the game”. So I told Adel he was playing and told Paddy he had to square it with the rest of the team, adding: “If he’s rubbish it’s your fault.” That’s not player power, that’s making sure the team are onside with the decision, and the player at the centre of it knows you are on his case and he owes his team-mates. Adel played well and we won 3-0.
One of the players who took most convincing to put up with Adel’s antics was Shaun Derry, who found it hard to take because he was a very good pro. Shaun started his first management job this week, at Notts County, and I wonder how he’ll react when he finds himself in a similar position. Maybe he’ll view things differently.
I’m sure Shaun will have a very rewarding career in management. He was my captain and manager on the pitch and I am sure he will be a major influence on the players at Meadow Lane. He’s taken Greg Abbott as his assistant and he’ll be the perfect foil.
I was asked this week what advice I would give to young managers. My answer was the same as always: “Make sure you get a good chairman.” However, first-time managers can’t be too fussy. Shaun is, I think, County’s ninth manager in four years. You can’t tell me they have all been bad managers. For example my old coach, Keith Curle, had a 45 per cent win record, which is very good (it’s better than David Moyes at Everton, for example), and County were 10th in League One when he was fired in February this year. How they wish they were in that position now. Maybe the answers lie closer to home.
Micky must make sure the gloves are off at Shortwood
On Monday night I’ll be at Shortwood FC. In all my non-league days I never heard of the place but I am really looking forward to going to Gloucestershire to cover their FA Cup first-round match with Port Vale for BT Sport. The FA Cup is special and this is an opportunity for one of those part-time players to become a national hero on TV.
That is the romance, but there is a flip side. I know how Micky Adams will be feeling as kick-off approaches as I’ve been in the away dressing room before matches like this. You cannot win. If you do people expect it of you, if you lose or draw it is horrible. I’m fortunate never to have lost to a non-league team, but there have been some close shaves. I’ve been taken to replays by Telford, Tamworth and Rushden & Diamonds, then a non-league force. That was hell. It was one of my first matches at Sheffield United and we went to penalties, scraping through 6-5.
What you want when the draw comes out is a home draw against a moderate non-league team. When you are drawn away to a good one you need characters in your team. I’ll be watching Port Vale’s warm-up with interest. When you see a player tiptoeing around the puddles you know he doesn’t fancy it. I’ll be looking for gloves too. I’m sure one or two might reach for a pair, but if I were Micky I wouldn’t allow them.
One more big win will make Arsenal real contenders
I have been Arsenal’s biggest supporter this year and was delighted they beat Dortmund on Wednesday. It was not the most flowing performance but Dortmund thrashed Real Madrid last season and have not lost at home for a long, long time. That is Liverpool and Dortmund Arsenal have beaten in successive matches and if they can win, or even draw, at Manchester United tomorrow people will have to start looking at them as real contenders. Look at the players they have coming back from injury and you’d be mad to write them off.
Man City look threatening, especially Sergio Aguero, but can they start winning away against lesser sides? We should know more tomorrow as Gus Poyet will have Sunderland fired up.
Argyle’s warming result on a night for long johns
I went to watch Plymouth Argyle’s Under-18s in the FA Youth Cup this week. They won 4-1 against Bristol Academy. The Under-13s, including my son William, were ballboys. To say it was a cold night was an understatement; I had two pairs of long johns on. William enjoyed it, though he only touched the ball once, which was more than some of them did. It was a cracking match, but I doubt we’ll watch the next round, when they are away to the winners of AFC Wimbledon v Colchester.
The other domestic sports news concerns Amy, who won all her badminton matches. We all enjoy it and I’m thinking of getting a net to rig up in the garden.
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