Player Power – could it work for England’s next manager?

by James Benwell

Gary Speed’s death shocked the world of football, but one thing that emerged from the tragedy is something that seems to be on the increase.  Once the immediate grief was over, Welsh captain Aaron Ramsey wrote his feelings about the next prospective Wales manager on Twitter.

It emerged back in January that the Welsh players had not been contacted about their views on who should replace Speed. Debate arose around whether the captain of a national side, and its players (who remember are picked by the manager) should determine who manages them.

On one side, it makes sense that the players would like a a manager that they can deal with easily, who is approachable and good at “man management”. For that reason it is obvious that players have a right to choose, or at least be consulted about their management team. Conversely, the idea that player power should be the sole factor in choosing a manager is wrong. It is far too open to abuse of privilege by players hoping to curry favour with the incoming management, indeed players could opt to pick a manager who they know will play them, rather than one who doesn’t.

So, we arrive at England. Four months prior to the start of a major tournament that was due to be Fabio Capello’s swansong, and with a rift having developed between him and the FA over the shambles that was John Terry’s removal as captain (incidentally, I personally feel that if Terry had stepped down himself until either clearing his name or being found guilty then this could all have been avoided), Capello dramatically resigned his position after a protracted meeting at Wembley. We will probably never know the entire content of that meeting, but the fact remains; England are now without a manager, a captain and with potential factions of players (pro-Terry and anti-Terry) and all this with less than four months before the first game of Euro 2012 (which, as we know, will not include a certain Mr Rooney in its starting XI). The England manager job is not the most enticing at the best of times, a cursory glance at its previous holders show that it can be seen as a career-ending, or at least, career-damaging position.

These issues don’t make the England job attractive to a manager, and when coupled to the fact that you might be extremely unpopular with the players, why would you take it? With The FA seemingly making a hash of the issues surrounding England at the moment, should the players be given a chance to choose their manager? It would certainly take out the possible worry of “will the players like me” for any prospective candidate.

Already this week, senior players such as Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney have taken to social media sites to air their views. They’ve listened to some of the desires of the FA, and have applied logic to them. One such issue is Capello’s apparently poor command of the English language (I know, I never thought I’d see the day when Rio “aaaaaave it” Ferdinand was judging people’s standard of English). The FA desire an English manager, and Messrs Rooney and Ferdinand have realised that, stating as much this morning in their tweets over breakfast. They clearly are not as stupid as people believe and, as Aaron Ramsey said in his frustrated tweet, “I am a grown man and captain of my country, to which I care deeply about…”. I don’t doubt that they could be sensible enough to pick their man (or woman, Hope Powell is a potential candidate in my eyes).

If the players pick their management, then the working relationship should already be sorted, they picked them after all. All that follows is the continuation of that positive working relationship and the results should start coming their way. Look at it with a socialist view; “A happy worker is a productive worker”, by allowing the players to have their say and making them feel valued and appreciated then The FA have sorted any potential player unrest for years to come. Leaving the minimal time spent in the England camp to be dedicated to playing good football and trying to get results. However, football rarely works in such a utopian way. The issue that has now reared its head is the naming of Harry Redknapp as their preferred candidate. That causes all manner of problems to the world of “Football as a business”. Should Daniel Levy see fit, he could protest that The FA and its representatives (because after all, the players represent The FA every time they get a call-up) are trying to entice his manager away from his contract. If Spurs really wanted to, they could throw the phrases “tapping up”, “arbitration” and “compensation” into the mix.

I’ve no doubt that the players would love to work with Redknapp, and that he has the potential to be a very successful manager for England, if given the chance. The problem is, now that he’s been named as the preferred candidate by the players, will he be automatically discounted by an FA committee fearful of reprisals from Levy and Tottenham Hotspur? Player choice cannot work without a degree of oversight from The FA (in the form of at least a guiding hand), but should The FA choose to, they can over-ride the decisions made by players, meaning that we are back to square one and exactly the same system as Aaron Ramsey found himself in last month; expressing their desires, and frustrations, and getting nowhere.

So, is player power a good thing? Well, it works on paper, or in theory. But as I’ve said, it’s open to abuse by both sides. The FA could reduce it to mere tokenism or the players could become so powerful that they allow their personal gain cloud their judgement. However, the bottom line is surely that the players of England couldn’t do much worse than the FA Committee. Who knows, with a bit of progressive (albeit slightly socialist or philanthropic) thinking from the “men in suits” it could lead to something actually working for once.

Author Info

James Benwell

James is a Sports Photographer who spends his life sitting in the cold and rain at the side of Football pitches. He is immensely jealous of journalists who sit in the warmth and dry with hot drinks. He wants to be one of them so is aiming to show that he can write as well as take pretty pictures.

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