Despite the wonderful games that took place this past weekend, the soccer world has been marred by a series of questionable events. The events have forced the question: How should teams deal with players whose egos are far beyond the scope of their playing abilities?
Confidence is a wonderful thing for a player to have, especially when it is well-deserved. One can say all kinds of things about how Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo have egos that are out of control, but at the end of the day, it is justified because both are well-liked by teammates and are astronomically talented players.
The real problem occurs when a smaller scale player decides that he is above all reproach and undertakes actions that are ultimately harmful to his club.
This past week, Rangers F.C. midfielder Joey Barton made headlines for all the wrong reasons. If you have not heard of Barton, he is a player who is reaching the end of a career spent with Manchester City F.C., Newcastle United F.C. and Queens Park Rangers F.C., among other teams.
After a truly abysmal performance in Rangers’ 5-1 demolishment at the hands of Celtic F.C., reports emerged of a quarrel between Barton and his teammate Andy Halliday during training. While it is not entirely clear what the argument was about, it was serious enough to merit Barton’s banishment from the training ground.
While this normally would be enough for a player to step back and maybe ponder the consequences of his actions, Barton took the incident one step further: He gave an unauthorized interview trying to brush off the argument with Halliday.
In any sport, but especially soccer, this is a serious no-no. Going against the club, even if it is not directly slamming the club, is a mistake that almost always ends in disaster and the end of a player’s season.
Furthermore, one “rogue” player’s decisions create an atmosphere of discord that makes it hard for teammates to trust each other. Unsurprisingly, Rangers management decided that the best course of action was to suspend Barton for three weeks.
Unfortunately, this is not even the first disciplinary incident that Barton has faced in his career. At one point, he was sentenced to six months in prison for assault. Just after this, he was given a suspended sentence for assaulting yet another teammate.
Many fans were surprised that Rangers decided to even give Barton a chance given his somewhat suspect past.
Barton, for his part, seems to be taking his punishment in stride, although a few tweets seemed to lash out at Rangers. Really, his time has been focused on promoting his new book, in which he gives exclusives about his career.
Amazingly, the cloud of scandal is still hovering over the player, with allegations coming out that he is being investigated over placing illegal bets on the Champions League match between Celtic and FC Barcelona. I think it is safe to say that Barton’s time with the Scottish club is effectively over, a sad end to a career that once held so much promise.
Barton’s escapades have certainly been newsworthy this week, but he is not the only player to become mired in scandal.
Championship club Aston Villa F.C. just suspended winger Jack Grealish for one game and fined the player after the youngster had the police called to a party he attended at a hotel.
Much like Barton, this was not Grealish’s first time making the headlines for something unrelated to soccer: Back in 2015, pictures emerged of Grealish allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas.
Grealish’s actions are perhaps a tad more excusable considering that he is only 21 years old.
However, he certainly does not have the kind of reputation that any player wants to form.
Another player who also made headlines is out-of-favor Liverpool F.C. defender Mamadou Sakho, who has not played for the Reds since April. It is clear that Manager Jürgen Klopp is not a fan of the Frenchman, with the defender being sent home from Liverpool’s summer tour for missing team dinners.
The team tried to send the player out on loan before the end of the deadline, but Sakho refused. While Klopp has claimed that Sakho is not yet fit for matches, Sakho has vehemently refuted this idea in a series of posts on Snapchat. It was a bizarre move that surely ended any chance of Sakho ever playing for Liverpool again.
This then raises the question of why players choose to act in a way that can be potentially career damaging. What many seem to forget is that they are part of a team. It is the team that wins the games, and while the individual certainly has an impact on the outcome of the game, soccer is ultimately a team sport.
If one threatens the strength of the team in any way, the manager will not hesitate to act, regardless of the importance of the player. It is a lesson that many would do well to remember.
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