Premier League Footballers: Taking the ‘pro’ out of football…

As we wave goodbye to one of the most expensive flash in the pan managers the Premier League has ever seen, we can reflect on a couple of things to come out of this debacle. Firstly, that Roman Abramovich is a man who brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘commitment issues’ and secondly, that ‘player power’ still ultimately rules the Premier League. I think the ‘rulers’ in the Chelsea dressing room probably smirked a Grinch-like grin as they watched Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) pack his office in to his car and drive off in to the sunset. Like the kid who cries and stamps his feet in a sweet shop until he gets the sweets he desires, some of the Chelsea players ultimately got their way. Maybe I am being unfair and all the Chelsea playing staff gathered to form a guard of honour and clapped Andre Villas-Boas out of Chelsea’s training ground shouting ‘stay in touch’ and ‘let’s have coffee/Nando’s soon’…I know which is more likely.

It is alarming that AVB’s demise came in such a way that showed some of this group of professional footballers to be anything but professional. Former England and Watford manager summed it up perfectly:

“As a football manager, you have to be held responsible for results, as a player, you have to be held responsible for performances. Looking at Chelsea, you have to say the players have won off the pitch. I don’t think the players have had the commitment you would expect from any professional sportsmen, and that’s difficult for the manager.”

Over the Premier League years we have watched ‘player power’ become almost a way of life for these men who still act as stroppy teenagers, which is in stark contrast to those lower league players who feel obliged to behave on and off the pitch, for both club and manager, in fear of being left unemployed and on the ‘rock n roll’. It is rare in the Premier League to watch an interview with a player and think to yourself ‘he appreciates living the dream’. There are many good professionals out there who do keep their heads down, appreciate what they have, relate to fans, live right and always give 110%, but vast amounts of wealth and being treated like you are ‘better’ than the average person on the street can quickly go to a players head.

Footballers transfer this ‘god-like’ status from the streets on to the pitch and dealing with egos has become a huge part of everyday management on the training ground, in the dressing room and on the pitch. AVB’s demise at Chelsea shows this all too readily as he tried to stamp his authority on a set of players of a similar age, in an environment where he had to earn respect rather than dictate and command it as he tried to do. AVB was the manager and the boss, he decide who plays and who doesn’t, who remains at the club and will go on to pastures new, but certain senior figures in the Chelsea dressing room saw things differently. Egos have cost another manager his job as some of the senior players at Chelsea removed the word ‘Professional’ from their job title.

Like many of the foreign imports that have come to the Premier League, AVB had no time for players who thought wealth propelled them to a place where they felt better than you or I, where players feel empowered to do what they want, when they want and get away with it. Villas-Boas rattled the cages of those players who literally ran Chelsea, players who Abramovich empowered in the first place at the club – AVB was the man who wanted to take the power away and demote rulers to subordinates. Abramovich gave AVB a mandate to crush player power at Chelsea, but it is ironic that Mr Abramovich’s actions in the end gave player power perhaps one of its biggest victories. 

Player power is not a new phenomenon or something that exists only at Chelsea – it has been rearing its ugly head in our beautiful game for years ever since players became empowered by the Bosman Ruling. Players found a new power that they could always use in their favour and greedy agents told them how to do it. There have been some high-profile cases of player power over the years; we have seen Ronaldo force a move from Manchester United, Rooney hand in a transfer request at Manchester United and hold the club to ransom, whilst Carlos Tevez refuse to play for Manchester City, then take a nice little holiday, before being welcomed back to the club with open arms. Clubs are on the back foot and have let some footballers win, with Luka Modric being a high-profile victory for football clubs.

Player Power isn’t just about conflict with managers and football, it is about conflict with society; players who think they exist in a world where excess amounts of money and flashy lawyers can get them out of any predicament. This season we have seen incidents like Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner causing criminal damage to people’s cars as they were caught on CCTV allegedly kicking people’s wing mirrors off. If proven, this shows how out of touch with reality some players are; neither player stopped to realise that the £150 or so it cost to replace a wing mirror is a big deal for us normal folk. This wasn’t Bendtner’s first offence of the season as he was filmed begging for free pizza after his card was declined in his native Denmark saying ‘Don’t you know who I am? I can buy the whole pizzeria’.

This is the kind of ego that managers, chairman and society have to deal with on a daily basis – so overinflated and out of touch it is embarrassing. Money and social status has empowered players to a level where they no longer feel they have to neither act professionally within their work place nor obey the rules that society governs. The sad thing is because players are a bigger commodity and company asset monetary-wise than a manager will ever be, it is hard to see when ‘Player Power’ will stop ruling football…it is time for football to get one big reality check, maybe it is up to fans to do it.

We want to hear your thoughts on player power – have you had good or bad experiences with players? Do you think it was player power that cost Andre Villas-Boas his job? Are players paid too much and think too much of themselves?

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