SO, LEICESTER CITY, feeling good now? A 3-1 victory over Liverpool, displaying the sort of form that won the club the Premier League, suggested that they had this sort of performance in the locker all along. Et tu Claudio.
This whole episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but should we really be surprised? This is just the latest example of how the modern game has become the property of its employees, that the players have too much power and that even club owners find it difficult to control when that body decides to “down tools”.
Leicester overachieved last season and the man that drove them was responsible for a big chunk of that consistent performance level. Football has shown, once more, that when it comes to basic rules around employment and decency, it lives in a bubble of its own.
In corporate life, if you have a problem with your boss, it is very rare that the employer will back the individual against the manager of that team. Even if the employee has a half decent case, the company will almost always come down on the side of the manager. In many ways, it has to unless some pretty awful things have happened.
But there is an uprising among players. One journalist, I believe Brian Glanville, once said that footballers are “third class people earning first class wages” and to some extent, whoever wrote that was right. The players that behave properly are those that have had a reasonable education or had good values instilled in them. Frank Lampard, a privately-educated lad, for example, seems to have manners and poise, and I am not surprised that Kasper Schmeichel has been more vocal than his team-mates in thanking Ranieri for his role in his career. Schmeichel is the son of Peter and he’s from Denmark, where people tend to be pretty polite.
Players, whether they are influenced by shady agents and intermediaries, or even just by their team-mates, have become totally detached from reality. Just look at how they tweet pictures of their blingy possessions or turn up in sports cars at a club on a day that people have been made redundant behind the scenes. Moreover, look at how they have total disdain for their contractual obligations. Players angle for a move by starting the “I’m unhappy” narrative in order to agitate for a transfer or a better contract. Within a few weeks or months, they’re in a window.
What’s more, they go public on who they want to play for even if they are in mid-term. Then long-standing internationals hold press conferences to announce their “retirement” from the national team, when actually it should be the manager who decides when they are no longer fit for purpose.
We have reached a point in the evolution of the game where players are bigger than managers and teams. The big news is more likely to be “who is he going to play for now?” rather than, “who will United sign?”. And the worrying thing is that the clubs can do very little about it.
So when a bunch of demi-gods start to complain about their manager, which the Leicester players are rumoured to have done, the owners have no choice but to listen. “Change this, or we lose,” is the message, and the players cannot lose, but the club will. They will get paid come what may and if they fall into dispute, they will just get their agents to stir the pot. Player power is not a new thing, but it is more dangerous and more toxic than it could ever be in the past.
The real power, though, is in the stands and on the terraces. It is in the fans’ gift to show their disapproval of this unsavoury incident and the general behaviour of professional footballers. The money they pay for their overpriced tickets goes straight into the pocket of players who have no regard for the supporters whatsoever. Ignore the CSR tactics that some players adopt – at the same time, applaud the likes of Defoe – to look good as they trouser their huge salaries and give little back on the field of play. For every Schmeichel, there are dozens of players who just use a club for their next pay big cheque and then move on to somewhere in France, Turkey, China, the US or Spain. The fans have often been taken for a ride, but currently, it is the players that are driving the bus. Is this what Jean-Marc Bosman envisaged back in 1995?