Forget the big match: As Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have proved, sometimes an old-fashioned power struggle is better
“Who’s the Boss?” was a gentle, lightly-cheesed 1980s US sitcom starring Tony Danza* as a lovable, dopy, widower forced to live with a tough, divorced businesswoman. The madcap pair tussled for authority with zany consequences. Football power struggles are equally entertaining but the tears, departures and caustic words are genuine.
Clashes in the board room, training complex or dressing room shouldn’t be a surprise. Particularly at big teams. It is inevitable when bundling driven people together in a small space. Egotism, stubbornness and refusal to compromise run through the best sportspeople (though some hide it well).
Sometimes it is healthy, keeping people motivated and proving they care. Other times there are fatalities. Jose Mourinho lost a war with his most trusted general. The Portuguese made John Terry Chelsea skipper and the two celebrated back to back league titles in 2005 and 2006.
But in autumn 2007, Jose was worried by the centre-back’s form and questioned the captain’s physical durability behind his back. Terry found out and complained about the smooth manager to the club hierarchy. Club owner Roman Abramovich was forced to choose. Weary of Mourinho’s cautious football, the zillionaire with the curious beard sided with Terry. Within 48 hours the former Porto magician was history.
Mourinho’s latest power struggle at Real Madrid is grimly self-destructive. The Special One will never be as popular as saintly captain Iker Casillas or all-action, passionate powerhouse Sergio Ramos. So he has dropped them both this season to flex his muscles. It looks desperate. Is Jose trying to replicate ‘Terrygate’ to secure a pay-off and nap before a new job in summer 2013?
Sir Alex Ferguson loves showing he is boss. The ferocious Scot relished tear-ups with Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Glaswegian zaps any star threatening his authority. His public battle with United shareholder John Magnier didn’t only scare the horses. Roy Keane felt it damaged the club. “The words Ferguson always used about management were ‘power’ and ‘control’,” said Keane.
When Franco Baresi retired from international football in 1992, Gianluca Vialli became Italy skipper. Coach Arrigo Sacchi wanted to dump the centre-forward because of his changing room influence but couldn’t boot out an Azzurri captain. Then Baresi was coaxed out of retirement and reclaimed the armband. Checkmate Sacchi. Within a month Vialli played his last international, aged only 28.
Conflicts can be ridiculous. Derby County goalkeeper Stephen Bywater didn’t rate Rams manager Nigel Clough. The keeper suggested the squad weren’t keen either via not-very cryptic comments on twitter. “How do you lose the dressing gown?” and “Looked around. The dressing gown is gone,” wrote Bywater in 2011.
In case you are wondering, Bywater was not talking about the comfy post-shower garment but the dressing room. Daft, unsightly, degrading or suicidal, power struggles are frequently more captivating than events on the pitch.
*Tony Danza had limited talent, a blue-collar accent and didn’t take himself seriously. New Yorker Danza resonated with the simple man in the street and had a few hits. The Ray Parlour of US televisionTagged in: Alex Ferguson, chelsea, football, José Mourinho, manchester united
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