It’s not correct for a manager to criticise a player in public. Yes, I’m a player, but I have been in football long enough to know that criticism should be kept private.
There is an increasing demand in football for access and to know everything about the lives of players. The players themselves can be complicit. They post pictures of themselves holidaying on social media as the lines between their private and public lives become blurred. Burglars are happy about such postings because they can see when footballers are away.
Fans want information and we have to move with the times, but some things should still remain private – just as they should in any company or any relationship.
I see a trend of managers criticising their players. It’s not new, I have had it once or twice myself; managers are doing this because they are under more pressure than ever. There is less patience for them, less time to get things right. So, if pushed, they will speak honestly and blame players for failing to implement their plans. The manager will clean his hands of responsibility by blaming somebody else, be it a player or an official.
They may say: “I’m trying my best but the team is not reacting” to get journalists and fans to see any problems from their perspective. It deflects attention from them, from the bad result or bad performances, but I don’t like the context of when comments are made.
Managers are often pushed for opinions in the immediate aftermath of a game when emotions are running high. They have had little time for reflection or to get a player’s side of the story, if there has been a problem, like when a player is carrying an injury.
When a manager is then critical, no good can come from a player being criticised by his boss in public. I have heard it said that it can be a motivating factor. Nonsense.
Maybe for a tiny percentage of players, but would you like to be publicly criticised by your boss? Would you like to be singled out, especially when you have done your best, as all professional footballers do. No player sets out to make a mistake.
For me, it is fine to be shouted at in private by your manager, fine to be dropped, too, if you have let the side down by playing badly or not being as good as another player, but public criticism is not constructive. It gives the media and enemies of the club more ammunition to fire at you.
Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger rarely criticised their players in public. When they did, it was usually because they had fallen out with them and wanted them out of the club. The criticism was a tool to help them get what they wanted.
There are exceptions: I do think it is justified to speak out when a player has done something wrong off the field, if they have been unprofessional or involved in an incident which becomes a news story.
There is another reason why managers can get more frustrated: They don’t enjoy the same power as they did. Young players used to have more respect for the elder players; they would sit quietly in the dressing room and work their way up the rank towards senior level. Now, younger players have less patience and will be more inclined to let it be known if they are not happy with the manager.
They rarely do it directly, but they may leak news from a dressing room which can undermine a manager. That, in turn, adds more pressure on a manager.
You can’t stop leaks at a football club. You have 25 players and they have 25 agents and 25 partners who they talk to most days. And people talk, because there is a demand for them to talk and because of those 25 players there will always be some who are unhappy, usually because they are not in the team. It is yet another problem a manager has to face.
One manager who has had more attention than most in the past week is Jose Mourinho, whose side lost three games in succession. Of course, it is not good enough for Manchester United, but teams lose matches, especially ones who are going through a transition. And my old club United seem to have been in a state of transition for the past three years.
Wayne Rooney has had a lot of criticism for his form. But Mourinho has not spoken out against his captain. I have seen other people saying that Rooney is finished as a player. I don’t agree.
When I watch him, I think the problem is that he is not playing his best position. He is a goalscorer, a No 9. He has the instinct of a goalscorer. I know, I have it too. It is what we are comfortable with, it is our job. I can play in midfield too, but I'm at home as a No 9 scoring.
I would like to see Rooney played further forward with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is really clever how he drops off centre-backs. If they follow him, he leaves space for the second striker to exploit.
I know many United fans want Rooney to be dropped. I would say, instead, play him for four games as a leading striker. Even though your game changes as you get older, you never forget how to score; it is natural. Let him score, let him love that feeling when the ball goes in, let his confidence rise. He wouldn’t receive half the criticism he is getting if the team were winning, but senior players tend to get the most criticism when results are going against them.
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