New Year’s Resolution: Show Some Integrity

Alex Ferguson and Dimitar Berbatov

Old Trafford; Sunday afternoon; FA Cup. King Kenny’s return to the fold in the Liverpool hotseat coincides with the game that the fans most want to win. Two incidents mar the game: Dimitar Berbatov’s blatant dive to win an early and decisive penalty, and Steven Gerrard’s reckless two-footed assault on Michael Carrick’s shins. To all TV viewers then, not a penalty and a definite red card. Surely Alex Ferguson and Dalglish had no option but to agree? No, wait, of course not. Silly me.

You see, the thing is that managers believe they must defend their players at all costs. “It was a penalty… he was definitely clipped… the momentum is enough to bring the player down”, said Ferguson of his centre forward, who appeared to take two perfectly balanced steps beyond Daniel Agger’s dainty challenge before collapsing to the floor (or perhaps Ferguson would have us believe there was a sudden gust of wind).

Not to be outdone, Dalglish proclaimed “I cannot see that as a red card”, defending Gerrard’s two-footed ski-jump into the unfortunate Michael Carrick’s legs. Few would accuse Gerrard of malice, but even fewer could argue that the result was horribly over-zelous. Another weekend of football, and another herd of managers making ridiculous defences of their players.

What goes through a manager’s head when he steps out for the post-match interview? In order of importance it seems to go something like this:

1. Protect the players – because, really, how could grown men possibly accept any kind of criticism
2. Criticise the referee – even if you won 4-0, it’s better to get that in, just so that anything you weren’t happy about definitely wasn’t the fault of the team
3. The fans – should probably say something good about them, especially if your Roy Hodgson
4. The integrity of the game – erm, what’s that all about then?

For all but a select few managers, led by the very straight-talking Mick McCarthy, public criticism of their own players is taboo. It’s like politics; a politician must always defend the party line, whatever the circumstances. Party leaders will always try to defend their own ministers.

However, in politics the tag line now en vogue is ‘public accountability’. Politicians have woken up to the public distrust in government. Why should football managers be any different to party leaders? They represent large organisations that are reliant on the support of members of the public – the fans. Even Sheik Mansour’s empire building hobby would be nothing with an empty stadium.

But Premier League attendances are falling. Of the 17 teams that stayed in the division last year, nine have seen a drop in spectators this season. Disillusionment with the Premier League in England is rising. The recession combined with rising ticket prices hasn’t helped; neither did an awful England world cup campaign. But it’s more than that. Inflated player salaries and egos, blatant cheating – they are all going unchecked.

If fans’ trust in the game is to be restored then managers need to re-assess their role. It is not simply a results business; it’s a business of accountability too. Players accountable to no-one = disengaged and distanced fans. Criticism of players may alienate them temporarily, but a much bigger threat is the long-term alienation of the fans – the real lifeblood of the game.

A Premier League with half empty stadia is a far less attractive product to sell. Less TV money would mean a weaker league, with poorer quality players. It’s in the interests of everyone in the game to start showing some integrity; time for Arsene Wenger to start ‘seeing it’; time for a movement of Mick McCarthyism

by Ben Williams

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About bwilliams22
I'm a devout Reading fan with a particular penchant for recalling the glory days under Steve Coppell. I tend to blog about all things Premier League and Championship, and my guilty secret is that I'm becoming a closet Spurs fan. I wish every team would play with their attitude! I live and work in London, and am currently on a graduate trainee programme for the charity sector. Job title: moral crusader, if you please. If you want to see my personal blog, then visit

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