For Tevez and Terry, read Spurs’ Danny Blanchflower


I wonder if we’ve ever had a better season to demonstrate the contrasting effects of player power than recent events at Chelsea and Manchester City.

Yet it would be wrong to see this as reflecting the fact that players are now super stars, and because of the money they earn, they have acquired power that players of previous generations did not have. That is moonshine. How modern players exercise the power may have changed, but players have always had powers, particularly players at the top of their profession.

The most potent example of this was of course Danny Blanchflower, the captain of the great Tottenham teams of the early 6os. Blanchflower will always be remembered for those classic lines that define the game, “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

And in this search for glory, Blanchflower was not afraid to tell his manager, Bill Nicholson, what to do, or even change his tactics on the field. As his team mate, Cliff Jones, put it to me recently,

“He would say, if things might not have been going too good for me on the left hand side, ‘We’ll have a change, have a swap’, and I would move wings to the right. He’d push Maurice Norman [the big Tottenham defender] up if he needed a bit more punch up the front. Bill would allow Danny that sort of freedom if you like. Sometimes Bill might not agree with the move Danny had made and there’d be words. But there was always respect for each other. There was a great respect between the two.”

This respect was frayed in the 1961-62 season when a change of tactics by Blanchflower led to Tottenham being beaten by Ipswich who went on to win the title and deprive Spurs of a second successive double. And there was one occasion when Blanchflower completely fooled Nicholson and all his team mates, but this was off the field. It was when he became the first person to turn down This Is Your Life, then a very popular television programme.

As Jones recalls, “We were all there and people from America, from Canada, from Ireland of course at the BBC studios at Shepherd’s Bush. And a bloke came on and said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you all, for the first time in the history of This Is Your Life, our subject has refused to appear.’ He didn’t want his private life to be made public. Bill Nicholson said, ‘that’s typical Danny Blanchflower’.”

Modern players also protect their privacy, but by taking out super injunctions. What they don’t do is make decisions on the field of play – all that is already decided on the touchline. But they can influence decisions before they take the field of play. And this is where the Chelsea and Manchester City examples show how modern player power is different.

In the case of Chelsea, it shows the relationship that modern players have with their owners, something players of previous generations just did not have. I doubt if many of them even knew who the owners were. The relationship between Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, and his players has been well documented and player power there, particularly of the older players, has been evident for some time.

But the way the old boys turned it on the moment Villa Boas left was like a communication to their owner to emphasise what a bad choice the former manager had been. Such an improvement in results when there is a management change is not unknown, but in this case, it is evident that the older players, fearing they may be moved out of the club, were not performing for the Portuguese. The impression they have since given is they were keen to get rid of a young manager before he got rid of them.

John Terry and Roberto Di Matteo embrace, before Terry assumes a new role on the bench. Image courtesy of PlayUp

The Tevez situation, of course, is somewhat different. It started off as the manager laying down the law. Tevez, allegedly, refused to obey his instructions. This meant he could never again play for him, so said Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager. That story changed over the months. Then, with City having lost sufficient momentum to fear they wouldn’t win the title they so coveted, the manager brought Tevez back.

It was interesting to see Tevez’s reaction after he made the pass for City’s winner. While everyone else in the team celebrated with gusto, Tevez ran as if he was being asked to come off and only joined in after a teammate had congratulated him. It was clear he did not know how his teammates were taking to him. All this will not matter if this win gives City the momentum they seek.

But it does show how the use of player power by modern players has changed and a very new element has come in. Players like Tevez are so well rewarded that they can decide to take six months off work, play golf, go back to their homeland, thousands of miles from their place of work, and amuse themselves. Something that players from Blanchflower’s generation could not have imagined and most us can only dream of.


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