Monday 11 December 2017

Loss of inhibitions often the most destructive loss of all

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

F ew teams have ever been successful without team spirit. Any manager who lifts a trophy or any team captain who has avoided relegation will always mention it in their acknowledgements. There is little debate on its necessity, but opinion seems to be divided on how best to achieve it.

While on international duty, we were brought on compulsory trips to the cinema. At club level, activities ranged from paint-balling to cricket. One team that went abroad to a training camp travelled together one evening (staff included) to a brothel. Many teams spend days out with each other at the races, while others play golf. The events vary, but the aim is the same. A sense of togetherness is desperately sought, underpinned by the belief that a divided group achieves nothing.

Alcohol has always been seen as the quickest route to team unity, just as it is seen as the fastest way to bond in all walks of life. All methods of creating team spirit are essentially artificial. Using alcohol, however, is certainly the one with the most dangerous consequences.

Team spirit can sometimes occur naturally, of course. I played in a team in which more than half of us came through the youth academy at the same time. We socialised together, and some of us lived together. At that time, there was no need to press upon us the importance of looking out for one another on or off the pitch. Such scenarios are rare enough, but every manager will do what he can to help create it.

I'm sure that was Gerard Houllier's intention last week when the Aston Villa squad spent the night together in a hotel after a day of paint-balling and spa treatments. Both Richard Dunne and James Collins were not allowed to take part due to injury, so they went to the bar instead. What happened next cost Dunne a fine reportedly in the region of 100k.

The specifics are unclear, but the following is true -- he had too much to drink and he said things he shouldn't have. As a result, he will have to contend with questions about his attitude, concerns about his professionalism and accusations he has learned nothing from his mistakes in the past. These questions are hardly warranted on the basis of what actually happened, but the frustration which may have contributed to his outburst is one to which most players could easily relate.

His relationship with his manager is tense to say the least, his form has been below the level he would expect of himself, results at the club have been poor all season and he is currently out injured. That he chose to get drunk is not his main failing. His decision to do so on a club outing in the presence of the club staff was what let him down, but he is far from the first player to be guilty of that.

In practically every trip I was part of, an incident such as this took place. On the one occasion I was on senior international duty, one player did the very same. He failed to show for training following a night out, returned that evening

still drunk, had a row with the staff who tried to talk sense to him and stormed out of the hotel in a tantrum. He sobered up and returned in time to train the morning after, and played a starring role in that summer's World Cup.

The majority of what goes on amongst a squad remains in-house, but on the occasions it doesn't, the players involved get hammered for their part. The incident last week at Aston Villa has been dealt with internally, and the club is unwilling to make any further comment. Houllier did his best to put the matter behind him and asked for a return to issues of immediate concern ahead of yesterday's game with Wolves.

The consequences of Dunne losing his inhibitions are obvious. Houllier has been unpopular with Villa supporters and this incident may allow him the strength to take on a player with whom he has a strained relationship.

Drinking may be able to bring teams together but it can also create the environment which breaks them apart.

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