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Volume 6 No. 213
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Leaders In Football: Managing Modern Players A Matter Of 'Trust'

World football leaders said that the key to successful management is being “humble” and “treating players with respect,” but the English national game is being threatened by English player’s reluctance to play overseas. West Bromwich Albion Manager Steve Clarke, Ajax Marketing Dir Edwin Van Der Sar, former French int'l Louis Saha and former Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado talked about some of the key challenges facing today’s players and managers during the "Pitch Perfect: Insight and Analysis From the People That Matter" session at the Leaders in Football conference in Chelsea. One of the issues which came up on the panel discussion is the potential problem of managing rich football players and motivating them. Clarke, whose team recently beat ManU on the road in the Premier League, said, “I think it is quite easy to be honest. As long as you treat them with respect and treat them with honesty, the players will come and work for you. They have the money and the security and all you are asking them to do is show their talents on the pitch. If you trust them to do the job, I think you can get good results by and large.”

HELPS TO BE HUMBLE: Van der Sar, a former ManU goalkeeper, said he had some sympathy with the modern day footballer, saying it was “not always easy to deal with” the riches and media attention on offer to top level footballers. Salgado said that the key to managing rich footballers and those with egos is having a humble manager. Salgado, whose career included a stint at Blackburn Rovers in England, pointed to the example of his time as part of a team of "Galacticos" at Real Madrid, which included David Beckham, Luis Figos and Roberto Carlos, and said the management skill of Vicente del Bosque was crucial to its success. Salgado said, “Dealing with 25 bastards is very difficult,” adding that management was a “lonely job” coping with different personalities and egos. Salgado added, “We were so lucky to have Vicente del Bosque to run the dressing room with Figo, Zidane and Roberto Carlos. And he was the most successful manager for Real Madrid in the last 40 years because he was so humble. He loves football and is a real gentleman.” Saha agreed, highlighting his move from ManU to Everton, a smaller club, saying the management at Everton made him feel as though the move was not a drop down in level.

HITTING THE ROAD: The panel was also asked its views on English player’s reluctance to play abroad, which contrasts with the flood of top Europeans who are lured by the riches of English Premier League. Some observers believe the flood of foreign imports is harming the English domestic game. Salgado said that Spanish players playing abroad had helped the national team. He said, “If you go for the money it is only the Premier League and German league right now, so it is so comfortable for the English players to stay here. But at the same time, I think when players go out they start to come back to the national team with a new experience.” He said English players should follow the lead of Swansea’s Michu and Chelsea’s Juan Mata and build up their skills by playing abroad, which would help the English national team. Saha echoed his comments, saying that its star players playing abroad had made the French team “stronger” over the years. The likes of Zidane and Marcel Desially, who played in foreign leagues, helped France win the World Cup in '98.
John Reynolds is a writer in London.