David Preece: Players' views on managers invaluable '“ if clubs can trust their opinions

I've got a question for you: Who do you think are the people in a football club best placed to judge whether there's a need for a change of manager or not?

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 1:31 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:10 am
Leicester City's players responded to Claudio Ranieri's exit with an impressive performance to thump Liverpool. Picture by Frank Reid

I’ll cut the need for any suspense and tell you my answer straight. The players are.

They are the ones at the coalface. They are the ones who can gauge how well their boss is dealing with the pressure. Or not dealing with it as the case may be.

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And if owners and chairman want a perspective that matters, why wouldn’t they approach players?

The only problem they face in that is whether the people they talk to are giving an honest reflection of what is happening or whether their view slanted selfishly towards their own preferences.

If you can trust those voices though, they can be invaluable.

The more experienced and trustworthy of players, the authoritative presences, the ones who have seen the warning signs before can prove crucial when times get tough.

When a side is struggling, it is necessary for those characters to take it upon themselves to call their own meetings to try to find a solution to what is going wrong.

Every team has their little dips in form, and crisis meetings that include the manager and coaching staff don’t always have the desired outcome.

Players censor what they say in fear of what the manager might think, so what you get, in many cases, is players saying what they think the manager wants to hear, rather than the home truths that are required.

It’s in these meeting where you see the true character of each player who speaks.

It isn’t just the leaders and the loudmouths who get their say either. It’s a great environment for the mice of the dressing room to be heard.

The players who just sit back and watch as the more opinionated of the squad battle it out can come out with the most unexpected of points that wouldn’t be voiced in front of coaching staff.

When it comes to tough times, you can generally split players into two groups. There are those who take defeats so personally they shoulder a bigger portion of the blame than they should and end up being weighed down by it.

They carry it with them everywhere until they can banish the ghosts with a win. Whenever that comes.

Then there are the players who are kings of abdicating responsibility.

They are the ones who, after a defeat, as soon as the manager closes the dressing room door behind him, they turn hindsight into an art form.

“We shouldn’t have played three at the back today,” they’ll say, trying to convince others around him that’s what he would’ve come up with if they were manager.

The next chestnut of “That set piece was never going to work. Why did he put him on corners?”, said just out off earshot so the player in question can’t hear.

Then the ultimate in shifting the spotlight of blame away from themselves, “I shouldn’t have been picking their centre-half up. What was he thinking making mark him?”

These are the players that managers have to identify and weed out if they are to stay in a job. But this isn’t just a one-sided war of finger pointing.

Management is alchemy. It’s about taking all of the ingredients of a squad, blending them together and getting the the best out of them, physically and mentally.

What makes it more difficult is that the ingredients mutate, shifting on a weekly basis and the manager has to adjust accordingly too.

As well as come up with the correct tactics, a manager and his staff have to cajole and motivate the players to get more out of them. The best coaches make a player perform better than even the player themselves thought was possible.

Maybe Claudio Ranieri did that last season with his Leicester players, but, once the magic stopped working, there was no going back and the situation is irreparable, certainly in the short-term period needed to keep them up.

I’ve been in squads where there has been a clear breakdown in the relationship between a manager and a section of his squad.

It only takes three or four in a squad to begin the unrest and the squad becomes fractured. When that happens, it’s just a matter of when, not if a manager loses his job.

You can lay the blame with players, but failure is mostly a combination between players and staff.

I’ve walked into clubs and could see immediately that the manager was on borrowed time. In one case, it was a mere six weeks.

There are tell-tale signs; irrational decision-making, flare-ups with players, friction with fans and criticisms of the owner or board members. The end is never far away.

I’ve witnessed attempted player coups first hand too. At one club, unbeknownst to me at the time, there had been a small breakaway group, which included a captain recently been dropped from the side, who held a meeting with the chairman to air their worries.

It all ended up with the players meeting at the training ground and holding a vote whether we wanted the manager fired or not.

I strongly opposed the motion and could clearly see there were other motives at work rather than just for the good of the team.

The majority of the players voting for a change of manager weren’t in the starting 11 at the time. Coincidence? No.

And sometimes, you know, players just perform badly and nobody can put their finger on it.

The situation at Leicester City is just like any other relationship that breaks down. Sometimes separation is no-one’s fault.

The players keep custody of the club, Claudio gets his financial settlement and both go their separate ways.

From the looks of the Liverpool game on Monday night, the players are enjoying the single life.

* I’m going to hosting a night of horse racing and football at Mill View Social Club in Fulwell next Thursday, March 9 in conjunction with Sunderland RCA and Black Type bookmakers.

It’s a mix of a Cheltenham preview and a chance to quiz Gary Bennett, Martin Smith and George Caulkin from The Times. Tickets are £10 and includes a free £10 bet and first drink free.

If you fancy coming along you can buy tickets from the venue or pay at the door on the night.

If you’d like the chance of winning a ticket, I’ve got five pairs to give away, so if you tweet me at @davidpreece12 using #BTPreview, I’ll pick the winners on Monday morning.