People are selfish, there is no getting away from it. Whether you are a footballer or working in an office, employees are always thinking about how any decision will affect their professional lives. Being creatures of habit, humans do not like change and want consistency. When change is coming, people go into self-mode and can become selfish.
When a manager is under pressure – as has been the case with Steve Bruce at Newcastle – that is passed down to the players, especially when tens of thousands of people make it known to you every fortnight. The anxiety travels around the dressing room and training ground, making you feel the added burden. Individuals will deal with it differently, because every player has something to win or lose from a manager being replaced.
How a player feels about the prospect of a manager leaving depends on the relationship they have with them because a dressing room consists of those who get on really well with the manager, others who do not, some who are starting, some who are not and others who are cast aside or do not suit the style. You judge people by how they treat you and if a manager is good to you, you will have a good relationship. If he or she is not, you will have a bad one. It’s not exclusive to football; in any walk of life it is whether you like your boss, how they make you feel and whether they are getting the best or worst out of you.
For those out of the team and potentially not enjoying the workplace, they will become enveloped in a psychological battle, knowing they are not going to feature regardless of what they do. Often they will have created a mindset that a move is the best option, although if the team are doing poorly then it may be better to await the manager’s departure. A player may become bitter or be quite happy they are not featuring in a team doing badly. Some will enjoy watching the team suffer because they cannot be blamed for the failings, while for others it will be a further blow to their ego that they cannot get in a side playing badly and losing, leaving them to question themselves.
I’ve been in a dressing room where after the manager was sacked half the squad were buzzing and the rest gutted. It was a real “wow” moment, because it showed, selfishly, a lot of players were not happy or enjoying it and wanted a new manager. The others were upset someone who signed them, worked closely with them and tried to create a positive dressing-room culture had not been given the time they thought they deserved.
It’s the cold-hearted and brutal nature of football and players are used to firings, hirings and everything that comes with it. It is a business and everyone will end up losing their job at some point, as Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho can testify. Even the world’s best managers do and it is something you have to expect. They do say you only truly become a manager when you get sacked.
The important thing is to have strong leaders in the dressing room to ensure tensions during the bad times are kept to a minimum between those playing and those who are not, and to help the unification when the manager is replaced.
There is a further mindset when it comes to the unknown of the person coming in. The selfish nature resurfaces, with players debating which incoming manager would be best for them. Rumours will abound about potential candidates, leaving players to look at the positives and negatives. No one is safe when a new coach arrives, because even if a player was a favourite under the previous regime, the latest appointment may see things very differently.
When a player thinks of the names in the hat for a role that is (or is soon to be) vacant, they immediately think about how any appointment will affect them. They will consider where they could fit in within the dynamic. A replacement could bring in new players and staff, making it a very unsettling period. A player might have worked with a manager before and been shipped out and think it could happen again; the manager might not like you; you might have argued; there are many possibilities within the unknown. Alternatively, that manager might have brought the best out of you, you love them and their style suits you. If you are a technical player and the manager operates with a long-ball game, then you will think they will not want to use you.
Newcastle players must be expecting a high turnover of staff and players in the coming weeks and windows. Bruce’s successor will be handed the inevitable war chest to acquire a squad that can move the club up the league in their new era. Pressure is constant for all managers at the highest level but the investment adds an extra layer for anyone coming in at St James’ Park.
Whether a weight is lifted off a player’s shoulders or they fear the next manager, it is important to remember that in order to grow – in any walk of life – change is needed. We may not like it but adapting to change and embracing it is the only way forward.