Earlier this month, a team’s poor form and increasing desperation for results produced another episode of a manager clashing with supporters.
Poor form increases the opportunity for this, as managers are villains in these periods. It often resembles a playground squabble, with both parties eventually having to shake hands and move on. Not this time, however.
Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson was fined £10,000 and given a touchline ban for insulting a supporter, having gone on to say in an interview that such supporters ‘can stay at home’, with the subsequent refusal to apologise leading to the chairman of a club Supporters’ Group labelling him ‘arrogant’.
Getting off the fence, leaving aside the ridiculousness of the punishment (strong words get spoken in the heat of battle), let’s look at Pearson’s opinion. First of all, telling fans to ‘stay at home’ doesn’t put you in the best light. I have witnessed managers and owners, including those at my local club, involved in such spats, and there is nothing that alienates the fans as much as those three words. I cringe every time they are uttered, although I retain some sympathy for the culprits as this also occurs in the immediate aftermath of a game, where the high level of emotion leaves a greater propensity to say something you regret.
With all that having died down, Pearson still maintains his view and refuses to apologise. And rightly so, in my opinion. Why on Earth should he? His comments about protecting his players (as well as himself, of course) are spot on, as is his defence of his players’ commitment.
Speaking as a player, it really grates when others start telling you that you’re not working hard enough, when you know either that you are or that the root of the problem lies elsewhere (or both).
Fans are generally supportive of players, but it is truly embarrassing to see people with no idea what’s happening shouting at players to run more while misusing popular buzzwords such as ‘passion’, ‘desire’ and ‘hunger’.
When people mention a lack of effort, what they usually see is a lack of confidence manifesting itself in an absence of conviction in decisions. For example, if defending you’re less inclined to press opponents at a high intensity for fear of getting taken out of the game, as the instinct that triggers a short sprint to close down is missing. You revert to the safer option of dropping off and protecting your goal, making sure you don’t get beaten. Or you don’t make yourself available in tight situations, instead dropping into unthreatening, low-pressure areas to pick up the ball and play the simplest passes. Either that, or you go to the other extreme and attempt the outrageous as a disguise.
Because some supporters fail to analyse things logically in such situations, it escalates to them as a lack of effort. Their perception sadly extends to a few managers and players whose heads are firmly up their bosses’ backsides. But would it make a difference to any of the above if players ran about a bit more and flew into tackles? Not really.
A manager is absolutely right to defend his players here, and he should be standing by them if he believes in them, which is the stance Pearson has taken.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert said as much to the Daily Star: “It’s not nice to hear what happened. I don’t like the criticism managers get. It’s okay for people to say ‘don’t react’, but it’s not nice. We try and do a good job.”
Like it or not, it does get to players when the crowd turns, especially when in poor form.
Furthermore, an apology would carry the associated risk of losing the respect and co-operation of the players. If a manager and his team are on the same side, what message would it send to the players about him and his leadership if he gives into a petty demand? There is little arrogance about all this. I do admire what Supporters’ Groups do for the good of the club they represent, but it shows naivety to tell the manager how to behave in this way.
This isn’t the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last.
It’s a shame to see bickering between fans and managers/players when they want the same thing, but it stems from a clash of perspectives. On the fans’ side, a lack of rationale leads to the flawed idea that a higher salary should make a drop in morale or a loss of one’s head less likely. This view frustrates those on the other side of the coin. Players and managers are often labelled precious, but what can be more precious than taking a few naughty words so personally?