Losing the dressing room: it’s the end game for managers, blamed for the departures of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri from Leicester, and now cited as the latest evidence that Arsene Wenger’s time is up at Arsenal. But what does it mean?
In each of those three clubs it has been caused by different factors, but the common thread is that the mental connection between manager and players is broken.
It doesn’t have to be a conscious decision to down tools, it can seep in, but at the top level, where the smallest lapses in effort make all the difference, the result is the same.
I don’t think anyone has got to the bottom of exactly what happened in the period after Mourinho led Chelsea to the title in 2015, but his public row with Dr Eva Carneiro, tension with Diego Costa and the decision to substitute John Terry at half-time at Manchester City destabilised a brilliant team that had been crowned champions just months earlier.
Mourinho mishandled situations and made wrong decisions. That seemed to lead players to question his judgment, which resulted in a lack of direction, a loss of motivation and, ultimately, the slump in results that cost him his job.
Ranieri’s downfall at Leicester was similarly swift, but I don’t think he had any great falling-out with his players.
Instead, it seemed as though he couldn’t get them to focus on Premier League games when they had the distraction of a Champions League campaign that, for some of them, might be their only taste of Europe’s elite competition. Ranieri and his players had contrasting focuses which ended up competing.
At Arsenal it is different again. Uncertainty over Wenger’s contract and the future of Alexis Sanchez have destabilised the team, but I think the club are paying the price for lowering their historical ambitions, which were always to win the top-flight title.
Now the importance of Champions League football to brand value and income has changed priorities and I think players have lost belief in the project.
The crucial unifying factor in all of these examples is player power, which is now out of control.
Winning the title would have given Leicester’s stars more money but also more clout, and that may have been a factor there too.
The closest thing to a revolt that I witnessed was at Rangers, where Graeme Roberts fell out with manager Graeme Souness over a lack of playing time. He was gone within 10 days.
That was then, this is now; clubs can’t do that in the post-Bosman era. Some ex-managers who I have spoken to refuse to go back because players hold all the aces.
Chelsea and Leicester took bold decisions to dispense with their title-winning managers and have reaped the rewards: Chelsea are romping to the Premier League again, while Leicester’s form has been transformed under Craig Shakespeare and they play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League tomorrow.
Arsenal’s achilles heel, meanwhile, is their reluctance to act. Their collapse, exemplified by Monday’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, shows they may have to, though. While the circumstances may differ form club to club, when managers lose the dressing room it always tends to be fatal.