I am the manager of Manchester City Football Club. I am left with only one option. It’s about money. It’s about pride. And most of all, it’s about pragmatism.
I have a player who joined the club under the manager I replaced and became an icon to the fans. His goals were absolutely vital to my club for 18 months Yet throughout that period he repeatedly disrespected me and undermined me, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. We ended up in something of a power struggle, where he attempted to destabilise me as manager. I won a trophy, achieved my objectives and in effect, won that power struggle. In the end he wanted to leave and I was allowed to buy a replacement, but the move never happened and he stayed. This was no fault of mine. I just wanted him gone.
On one of the biggest nights in my career at City, things were going badly. Late in the game, chasing a two goal deficit, I decided to replace a striker with a midfielder to stop the opposition overrunning my midfield. This substitution caused bafflement on the bench, as the players saw it as defensive. Particularly upset were the striker I was withdrawing, who was desperate to impress back in the country he made his name. Also annoyed was the other striker, the disrespectful one, who had assumed he would be entering the field.
I ended up in a row with the first striker and, in the heat of battle, we both lost our tempers. Then I turned round and saw my petulant striker had sat down and was sulking. I shouted at him angrily to get back up but he shook his head and shunned me. Not for the first time. I was furious because the players were undermining my authority, on worldwide television, and in front of other squad members. And this striker had a history of doing this to me. I am the manager. It doesn’t matter what I said, or how I said it, it is the player’s responsibility to act upon my instructions.
Things went from bad to worse after kneejerk, emotional and regrettable media outbursts by both of us. We both ended up in an impossible situation, both governed by pride and tied by these words. I felt his refusal to get up again from the bench was an act of gross disloyalty and petulance. He felt he was within his rights to do that. Neither of us would back down. In the interests of pragmatism I attempted reconciliations - far from the first time - but he was unable or unwilling to swallow his pride. He felt he'd been demonised and misrepresented by me in the media. I felt as manager he should bow down to my authority. He returned to his home country, without permission. We stopped paying him. Score draw. Both of us knew that the only way out of this was a transfer in January. But, for various reasons, this didn’t happen. It put us both in this even more difficult situation
Suddenly, there was only one way forward for both of us. He had to return to the club, for legal and financial reasons. I am in a situation where my strikers are showing patchy form and my side hold a tenuous lead at the top of the table. We have been knocked out of the cups. Many people believe my job is on the line if I don’t deliver the premiership title. There can be no doubt that this player would ultimately improve my squad. Would he improve morale? Not easy to say. But even if he doesn’t’ figure in the first team, his resale value needs to be preserved as much as possible.
On the night before he is due to return to the club, he gives a stupid interview which makes a situation which seemed to be improving even worse. It appears as though he is not softening his stance. He is less than repentant and effectively repeats the same claims as throughout this whole sorry process. The press sensationalise the more incendiary elements of the interview it and suddenly I am in an extremely difficult situation. It looks like the loose cannon has fired another salvo, possibily aginst the wishes of his advisors.
What the hell do I do now?
I have only one option. I pull the player straight into my office on his first morning back – alone, without advisors. I tell him that the situation has reached an impasse. I tell him that it is in his interests to be playing for the club, and in my interests to have him available. That we have to put this whole mess behind us, even though we dislike each other. I tell him that his behaviour that night in Munich was totally unacceptable to me. I explain why it was unacceptable and unforgiveable. That I am the manager of the team and a player publicly shunning me like that is embarrassing and unnecessary. I hear his side of the story. I tell him once again that the whole affair must end, for both of our sakes, right now. I tell him it is time he grew up and took some responsibility. And I tell him I accept my part in the disagreement. Even though I despise the man for his actions, I talk him round. I keep my cool and use my intelligence to control him. I privately accept that this man is a loose cannon, an idiot, but one who I can manipulate.
Then I ask him to agree to a Press Conference. And a meeting with the players. And in these meetings we sit together, and I tell the world that it was an emotional night, things were said that both parties regret. I tell the world that we have both agreed to do what is best for Manchester City. I make him agree to say that he is sorry to the supporters and his team mates for the way things have turned out. We show a united front.
I tell the player that if agrees to this, he will be training with the first team and available for selection tomorrow. And if that happens, he must get his head down and prove to me that he is worth consideration, through attitude and fitness. Only then will he have a chance of even getting on the substitutions bench. And he must shut his mouth once and for all, and I agree to do the same. If push comes to shove, and he is not responding to my manipulation, I tell him that if he doesn’t agree to this, he will spend the rest of the season training with the reserves. He will be excluded from all first team activities and punished for any failures in discipline. He will, in effect, be treated like a dog. And he is unlikely to find a single club willing to pay him half of what City do in the summer.
I have a meeting with my captain to obtain his “buy-in” to the whole deal. And then I bite the bullet and move ahead with the plan, for the good of Manchester City.
After all, what other option do I have? It’s about pragmatism. And manipulation.