Thursday 17 October 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Managers want to build a team from best talent, not best friends'

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'Michael Owen’s recent social media spat with Alan Shearer, following the revelations in his autobiography, underlined the simmering tensions which exist at every football club.' Photo: Getty Images
'Michael Owen’s recent social media spat with Alan Shearer, following the revelations in his autobiography, underlined the simmering tensions which exist at every football club.' Photo: Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

How many of us genuinely like everyone we work with? I imagine the general experience in any industry or office where you are forced to spend large amounts of time with colleagues is that you get on professionally with the majority, become friends with others, barely speak to some more and can't stand the sight of an irritating few.

The world of a professional footballer is no different. It is shocking when you see an altercation such as that between Aston Villa's Anwar El Ghazi and Tyrone Mings against West Ham last Monday. But given the environment in which the top players operate and the pressure they are under, it is also reassuring how rare such serious incidents are.

Michael Owen's recent social media spat with Alan Shearer, following the revelations in his autobiography, underlined the simmering tensions which exist at every football club.

Fans love it because it offers a glimpse into the office politics they recognise. Conflict means drama, and it is unusual seeing two people you imagine to be mates having a go at each other.

In an emotional sport like football, where so many opinions are divided and the stakes are so high, you are bound to have these high-profile feuds.

It is illogical to believe it possible to have a squad of 25 players agreeing on every team selection, the quality of signings or managerial decision over the course of an eight-month campaign, or in many cases a multi-year career.

It is a tribute to the discipline at most of the Premier League clubs that we only tend to hear some of the juiciest bits of gossip regarding internal bust-ups and players who hated each other long after the event, usually when the memoirs are published.

Coaches are equipped to manage personalities as much as work on team tactics.

That is why fans and media lap it up so much when the mask slips and the dirty linen is aired publicly, or players start to go at each other like Lee Bowyer exchanging punches with Kieron Dyer during their Newcastle days, or Andy Cole saying he has no time for Teddy Sheringham when they were strike partners at Manchester United.

There are all kinds of rivalries within a football team of any level. Everyone gossips about each other behind their back - just as in any workplace - not to be disrespectful, but because we are all fans wanting the best for the club as much as our careers.

When Michael Owen and I first broke into the Liverpool side we were room-mates and would spend hours on away trips discussing who we did and did not rate, or who we thought the manager should sell and keep.

It was exactly the same type of chat supporters will have on their way to a match. I can assure you the same conversations will be going on in team hotels across the country this weekend.

Michael was convinced that Steve McManaman was always looking to pass to Robbie Fowler more than him, the pair being such good friends. I would hear all about it in the hotel room.

I have my own high-profile experience of a public falling-out with a team-mate. I was demanding on the pitch and enjoyed my share of running battles with rival managers and players, yet it is an altercation with a colleague, Alvaro Arbeloa, which is often remembered as much as my yelling at Jose Mourinho.

Like all such incidents, that did not come about because of a single moment - in that case against West Brom in 2009. It was the build-up of tension which led to my explosion of rage when our right-back failed to offer the necessary cover at the far post as we protected a 2-0 lead.

For weeks I was telling Arbeloa to stop thinking he was Cafu because he was bombing forward to support our attack and jogging back to help his centre-backs. Enough was enough and I could contain my irritation no more, so I shouted in his face and gave him a hefty shove. Cue the headlines, far more of a furore because it was team-mates squaring up to each other rather than opponents.

We shook hands after the match and there was no lingering animosity. In fact, although it did not look great on television and it would have been preferable to keep feelings behind the dressing-room door, it was an example of how it can do more good than harm to get differences off your chest.

Gerard Houllier did not mind so long as the players moved on. Rafa Benitez even encouraged these occasional feisty moments as he felt it built the character of some players. The more issues fester, the more you are parking the problem for a later date.

After the Mings/El Ghazi spat, some pundits suggested these incidents 'happen on the training ground every week'. They do not and it would be a disciplinary problem if that was the case. Equally, it would be strange if footballers who see each other every day did not have the occasional release of tension.

Managers are trying to build a team from the best talent, not best friends.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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