I had positive role models at Liverpool like Gary McAllister and Sami Hyypia but the greatest influencer by far was the manager, Gerard Houllier.
Getting the best out of players requires a manager imposing discipline but also having a softer side.
I had positive role models at Liverpool, but the greatest influencer by far was Gerard Houllier
It feels like Marcus Rashford and Man United could do with someone similar right now
Rashford has to feel engaged with his manager Erik ten Hag, otherwise there is a problem
Marcus Rashford was in Northern Ireland to visit his close friend and former Manchester United academy player Ro-Shaun Williams (second left) after he signed for Larne
Players need to know that there are consequences for poor performances or bad attitudes.
Sometimes younger players don’t want to listen to anyone so the manager has to make them feel it.
It happened to me when Houllier bombed me out back on loan to Crewe because I thought I was God’s gift signing for Liverpool.
I know he took Stevie and his parents to dinner and warned them he wouldn’t make it at the club without becoming more professional. It bucked him up fast.
But there has to be a carrot as well as a stick. Players respond to managers who show a genuine interest in their welfare.
At United, Rashford has to feel engaged with his manager. He has to believe despite any criticism, the manager has his players’ backs. Otherwise there is a problem.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are masters at it. You can see them chatting to and embracing their players with real warmth. At the same time, you know not to mess with them. It’s a difficult balancing act but possible.
The United job isn’t the poisoned chalice everyone seems to think. If Klopp had walked through the door at Old Trafford 18 months ago, they’d be a lot farther on.
Rashford returned from an internal matter to score in Man United's 4-3 victory against Wolves
For Thursday’s win at Wolves, United were able to name a more familiar looking line-up as injuries clear up. But it’s still a worry that when they’ve made changes, the basics like hard work and pressing disappear.
Marcus Rashford’s latest indiscretion by going to Belfast hasn’t helped. I’d imagine most of the players would try to lighten the situation by gently teasing him about it.
At the same time, you hope an older player is able to put his arm around Marcus’ shoulder, check he’s OK and emphasise that it can’t carry on repeating. You have had captains like John Terry and Jordan Henderson or Roy Keane and Bryan Robson at United who try and keep everyone in check.
I was captain at Fulham towards the end of my career and cared about the team. I’d give advice to youngsters who might buy a flashy car too soon or an unhappy player who’d drag down the mood rather than have a conversation with the manager.
But the truth is at any successful Premier League club the basic culture is set by the manager rather than the players. The manager is the one who has the ultimate power to drop you if you’re out of line. He signs the players who create the right atmosphere. A dressing room won’t run itself with the wrong manager in charge.
Of course, senior players can help. They can make an impression vocally or by example. Often, by example is the more effective. I learned a lot about being professional by looking at Gary Mac who trained well, always looked smart and behaved properly in social situations. Rashford is 26 and I’m sure he’s seen that from team-mates at United as well. But in my experience it’s the boss who ultimately has to get his players to see the light.
Harmony at a football club is the manager’s job, as they are the ones dictating the culture
A Champions League winner like Casemiro can have a helpful chat with Rashford but it’s not as important as what Ten Hag tells him. And there has to be sanctions, not just for rule-breaking but being consistently below-par in games as well.
Too often United players get away with poor performances and don’t get left out. It doesn’t happen with Guardiola or Klopp. They rule with discipline but players are also willing to run through walls for them.
There has been chatter about Rashford and Jadon Sancho being treated differently. Managers are pragmatic and important players get more leeway but I don’t think that’s the case here. Rashford’s misdemeanours are different to Sancho. One appears genuinely apologetic and the other publicly called out the manager. That is why Rashford scored for United in the week and Sancho is in Germany.
Rashford needs to start enjoying his football again. Dressing room leaders can keep standards high but harmony at a football club is the manager’s job. They dictate the culture.
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