End result will always justify the means
Nice guys usually get raw deal in football's results-driven world, says Richard Sadlier
Like most players I usually knew during a game if I was in for a rough time in the dressing room after the final whistle. It's generally not hard to tell when you deserve criticism, but there was one occasion when I was caught completely off guard.
I had knocked Iain Dowie to the ground in a fairly innocuous challenge against QPR reserves, but it was what I did next that landed in me in a great deal of trouble. I held out my hand and helped him get back up to his feet, which was the final straw in the opinion of one of our coaches.
I was made aware in the bluntest terms how wrong I was to have done that. I was too nice and too friendly and it would not be tolerated any longer. If I wanted to last at the club, or even to have a career in the game, I would need to change my approach entirely. I was told to toughen up and become nastier. If I was caught exchanging any pleasantries with players or match officials again I would be taken off. A change of attitude was required immediately.
The comments of two men last week brought that memory back to me. The first, former FA chairman David Bernstein, was speaking after he received the CBE in the New Year's Honours List for services to football. He said that managers needed to take more responsibility for their behaviour and were setting "a terrible example for their players, let alone the general public".
He was talking about the harassment of officials and the criticism they receive from managers after games. The LMA dismissed his remarks as "misguided and unhelpful", saying such "inflammatory" commentary brought the game into disrepute.
The second, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino, was speaking out against what he believed to be unfair treatment from officials in a recent game. Specifically, he said his side were suffering as a result of their friendly image, before adding, "We just want what's fair. We can be assholes as well".
Discussions on the treatment of match officials help illustrate the ever-widening gap between those who run the game and those who see themselves as being on the front line. The view from the seats occupied by Bernstein during his time with the FA differs greatly from what you see when you're in the dugout, and the contrast between the two experiences could hardly be greater.
It is far less clouded up there. If officials make disagreeable calls, you shrug your shoulders and accept it. You may even remark about the difficulty of consistently getting decisions right. You're dressed in a suit, you don't break sweat and you remain in your seat at all times.
It is rare that a result would affect your earnings, your mood, or cost you your job. You remain in control of your emotions no matter what happens during the game. It's an understandable approach if you're as detached from events on the field as they often are, but it doesn't in any way resemble the outlook if you're a part of the dressing room.
Down there the rules of engagement are entirely different. Within reason, it's all about getting a result. The primary purpose is not to set an example of how to behave. So what if some fans are offended by your
actions? So what if you disappoint people in the press box? So what if commentators don't approve of how you act?
If there are deliberate fouls to make, you make them. If it helps the cause to hurt opponents, you hurt them. And if referees can be influenced by intimidation or criticism, you get involved. Not everyone will be as open and honest with how things really are, and there are obvious reasons why that is the case, but that's how it is. Demanding a change in behaviour is well-meaning but it's just not going to happen.
But quite apart from all of that, outbursts of emotion and anger are generally seen within the game as demonstrations of passion. Apparently it shows you care and that you're hurt when things don't go your way. It endears you to supporters. It may just be a sign of a lack of self-control but it is perceived in football as a positive.
Pochettino said he spoke out last week partly out for fear of the perception if he didn't. "If I don't talk I am going to be seen as if I am dumb or I don't care about my club," he said.
And that's a far more serious offence in professional football than disrespecting match officials.