independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Dressing room strife always finds its way to the pitch

After a disappointing defeat away at Reading, our manager and his assistant disagreed on a relatively minor point in the dressing room. It was in relation to the position of our full-back during defensive situations and both were equally keen to explain their point. It wasn't an issue of any great significance but there was far more at stake than who was right.

Because all the players were there to witness it, neither man was prepared to concede an inch. The whole scene continued for several minutes, and only ended because another member of staff intervened. The manager, Keith Stevens, knew he couldn't be seen to be wrong in front of us. The coach, Ray Harford, was sure he had the facts on his side. We knew it wasn't our place to get involved so we sat in stunned silence and let them at it.

Managers and coaches have disagreements all the time, but the playing squad usually have nothing to do with them. It would be impossible for complete agreement on every aspect of the game and most people accept that.

To avoid undermining his authority, though, coaches should at all times appear to support what the boss has to say. And to avoid the appearance that his input is not respected, a coach shouldn't be put down in front of the players at any time. Disagreements and disputes should be kept private. There is no other way it can work.

A rift among the staff can be damaging, but so too can the mere suggestion of one. Among his many difficulties at the moment, Arsene Wenger has faced repeated questions about the nature of his working relationship with coach Steve Bould at Arsenal.

Dismissing them as unacceptable lies, he insists there is no issue. Bould has also denied that there is anything to the rumours. There is little else either man could say in this situation, but former Arsenal player Stewart Robson paints an entirely different picture. He claims Bould is being increasingly marginalised by Wenger and has little input on the training field or during games.

The degree of truth in the story is not the main issue here, it's the response of the players that is telling. If they believe the rumours to be completely unfounded you might expect a siege mentality to emerge and performances that would demonstrate the reality.

You might expect a cohesive response on the field. But there is nothing in their reaction that points to signs of cohesion or unity. Their recent performances, most notably on Tuesday at Bradford, are in keeping with a dressing room that is fractured and directionless.

Robson branded Wenger a dictator and says his ego is preventing him from getting the help that is needed. Early positive results were attributed in the English media almost entirely to the input of Bould. Perhaps eager to credit one of their own, instant praise was heaped on him for some sound defensive displays. If Robson's account is accurate, it has been a remarkable fall for Bould in such a short time.

Even the reporting of tensions between the staff can create a level of disharmony in the dressing room and it's the job of the boss to ensure it's having no impact.

If Bould is not playing an active role, the players would know that by now. Whether it is having a detrimental effect is entirely different, but regardless of denials by both men the evidence on the field is overwhelming. Jack Wilshere was the only Arsenal player who appeared to

be committed against Bradford and their Premier League challenge ended a month ago. Focusing on club philosophies, wage structures and player development won't distract anyone from that reality.

Whether Bould and Wenger would agree with that is another matter, but between them they know something needs to change.

There may be a repeat of those scenes in the Reading away dressing room tomorrow night if Arsenal get the same result we did all those years ago, but a defeat in itself would be catastrophic.

The rifts will always be denied and unless somebody in the dressing room says something, there will be no evidence to contradict the denials. But events that happen on the field are always the most persuasive evidence.

Usually in a game of football, the truth will out.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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