Thursday 18 January 2018

Ronnie Whelan: Managers are sending out wrong message

PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks dejected after being sent off
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks dejected after being sent off

I’M not proud of my profession right now. Everything seems to be about excuses and money and nobody is ever to blame for anything except the referee.

I watched Nemanja Matic dodge a red card during Chelsea’s draw with Southampton and I didn’t hear his manager complaining. Selective vision and selective memory are now in control.

Jose Mourinho and his players dragged us back to the days when red shirts surrounded referees and bullied them; physically intimidated them.

I’m not just talking about that famous shot of Roy Keane and his Manchester United team mates all over Paul Lewis like a rash. Someone showed me a shot of myself and Phil Thompson giving serious abuse to a referee back in the day and I had to blush.

It wasn’t part of the game though in the same way it is now. Under Alex Ferguson, Manchester United pushed the rules to the limit and the licence to do it came from the top.

It’s the same with Chelsea. Mourinho encourages his players to go after referees. Either that or he doesn’t discourage them which is the same thing.

But then you watch pale, lifeless Manchester City all but surrender their title against Burnley and you wonder. What do fans want? A team passionate and committed enough to go too far to try to win a game like Chelsea or one which is limp and loses to relegation strugglers?

Manchester City players are among the best paid in the world and yet sometimes I see them playing and feel that they need a good kick in the backside.

Dressing rooms have always been a complicated nest of competing interests but somewhere in the middle of all of that the manager and players must find common ground and when you have that, you’re in the game.

Without it, you get Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini is a nice man but his team lacks passion. Normally, the manager takes the hit for a failing like that but the Etihad is home to disparate bunch of highly paid mercenaries who never really look like they are willing to shed blood for the shirt.

That’s why Chelsea are such a paradox. You want someone like John Terry leading the charge but not with all the baggage.

The cumulative baggage attached to football has become more and more intrusive and many of the issues which fans used to be able to leave at the turnstile are being acted out in front of them. Bullying, cheating, lying, turning a blind eye and above all, hypocrisy have become the currency of the game and it’s harder and harder to watch.

Even the low level stuff which used to go in one ear and out the other is grating, Brendan Rodgers has been talking about the risk of burnout among his players and my gut reaction to that is ‘give it a rest’.

Liverpool have fight their way back into a competitive position in the Premier League and the statisticians tell us that they have already played more games at this point than they did in the whole of last season.

Forgive me for mentioning this but surely the whole point of playing football at this level is so that you have 60 games a season. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

It should be seen as an achievement, not an imposition but when you listen to Louis van Gaal moaning about his players’ fitness over Christmas and how the medics told him that they were not at their optimum level for every game, you would swear we should be grateful to the players for showing up at all.

I know if I was a Liverpool player I’d be offended if my season was short and I’d be revved up for every game. Bring them on should be the attitude and ‘oh not another match for my aching limbs to cope with and the physio says I should be having a massage’.

Arsene Wenger is a serial offender and most managers will give it a whirl during the season when a few results go the wrong way.

Liverpool must beat Swansea tonight and central to the effort will probably be Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.  Neither has been overworked this season by any stretch of the imagination. There should be no question of burnout.

Sturridge should have a full season left in his legs and he should be getting stronger. Sterling was sunning himself on a beach not so long ago.

By losing to Burnley, Manchester City handed Sterling and Sturridge all the motivation they need to forget about aches and pains and pile into the remaining fixtures as if their lives depended on it.

Every place from second back to fifth is now up for grabs and three of Liverpool’s rivals lost ground at the weekend.

If you were looking for a long shot, you might also note that Chelsea, in the midst of all the roaring and shouting, have had a bad week and if they had a few more like it, who knows what might happen in the run-in?

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