If you sat down to write the script for the soap opera that the Barclays Premier League has become then you couldn’t hope to be as imaginative as real life. In Emmerdale or East Enders there’s always a comic thread going on to lighten the story away from the big dramas or rows. So it seems to be in football too.
The latest is the extraordinary tale at Stoke, where it’s emerged today that manager Tony Pulis rushed from the showers to start an angry confrontation with striker James Beattie that came to blows. Pulis had a towel round his waist when it started that had fallen off by the time the pair were pulled apart. Some careful camera work needed if that episode is shown before the watershed!
In the humdrum world of an office or shop floor, complete with formal disciplinary procedures and staff rules, it’s hard to understand quite how the relationship between a football manager and his players is still stuck somewhere in the 1970s or before. It makes Philip Glenister and his alter ego DCI Gene Hunt from Life on Mars look positively enlightened!
But this is the second incident this season of a manager allegedly starting a fight with a player, and you can bet there’s a few more clashes that haven’t made it out into the public eye.
But forget the comedy, for we punters there’s a serious question: What effect is it likely to have on the team’s performances and results? If a manager upsets a popular player, or gets something wrong in the eyes of the group, it can damage team spirit for weeks.
Think of Phil Brown and that half-time team talk on the pitch at Manchester City last season. It’s taken a year, and Jimmy Bullard’s brilliant celebration when he mimicked the rollicking after grabbing a late equaliser at Eastlands, to completely put the episode to bed.
The first high-profile dust-up between manager and player this season was at Aston Villa, where Martin O’Neill took on Nigel Reo-Coker to make it clear who was boss. Villa’s manager chose just the right week, straight after a win over Birmingham which meant he could do no wrong with the fans, and just before a home game with rock bottom Portsmouth so he could easily drop the midfield man and still get three points on the Saturday without him. Since then Villa have kicked on and it’s a fair bet Reo-Coker will be kicked out come the January transfer window.
Pulis is in an equally strong position at Stoke. Beattie apparently started the row because he wanted to take the players on a 48-hour Christmas party instead of the 24 they’d been allowed. That won’t do him any favours with the Potters’ fans, who will be wondering quite what he had to celebrate with just two goals – and one of those a penalty – in 15 games this season.
Stoke are also blessed with a gift of a home game to get over their problems – against Wigan on Saturday when they should be odds on rather than the 2.18 that’s available for a win.
There will inevitably be another one of the clubs facing relegation ready to take a Ã‚Â£3.5million gamble on buying Beattie in the January window. And Pulis has a ready replacement with Dave Kitson, out on loan at Middlesbrough, getting back in the scoring groove.
In fact Gordon Strachan’s side could be the biggest losers from the whole affair – currently 3.75 third favourites for promotion simply because of the success of Kitson reviving his old Reading partnership with Leroy Lita.
Five things you might not know about Dave Kitson
1. Born in Hitchin in Hertfordshire, he says his dad Kevin gave him his love of football. “He made me get up an hour earlier in the morning and use that hour to practise my left foot volleying against the garage door.”
2. His dad also got him into Shakespeare, and he can still recite Macbeth word for word – and to the amazement of team mates sometimes does on the way to away games
3. It’s well known he started life working stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s – but not that he was sacked for making the dinner ladies cry by complaining about the staff Christmas lunch
4. He gave up football for three years as a teenager, but got talked into playing in a Sunday pub league for the Arena Tavern in Letchworth – as a centre half.
5. First senior club Arlesey Town signed him as a defender too, and he played up front for the first time only because the centre forward got injured
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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