When managers play the ‘player welfare’ card, are they being thoughtful or cynical?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story, every day, to make sense of the world of football.
Today… What do we mean when we say player welfare?
If you’ve seen any football news over the Christmas period, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term.
Covid cases have been rising rapidly, and we’ve seen fixtures postponed across the board in the UK.
And so, the English tradition of playing three games in a week between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, started to feel a bit different.
Here’s Jurgen Klopp…
“Boxing Day is a wonderful game, nobody wants to erm, erm… delete that or cancel that. It’s just 26th and 28th. It’s absolutely impossible and it’s a joke that they still do it, because it’s not a problem to play 26th and 29th. Where’s the problem and the 28th is not a matchday then. Who cares?”Football Daily
Klopp went on to say that it was “dangerous” for the players, and he wasn’t the only one to speak out.
Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel joined the Liverpool boss in voicing their concerns over the welfare of their players.
And Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick, who has been managing in England for a matter of weeks, questioned the viability of the league cup.
“Currently we are the only country who plays two cup competitions…maybe this is something we could once again speak about and discuss. I know the reason for that, I mean the former league cup which is now the Carabao, the Carabao cup, has been still kept for the third and fourth division teams especially to improve the financial situations of those clubs but I still think if we speak about a tight calendar and maybe having to play too many games, this could be something where we could speak and discuss.”Football Daily
Depending on how cynical you are, these pleas could mean different things.
Could Covid be being used as a way to argue for an extra day’s rest by managers at top flight clubs?
If you believe that, you’d think these managers are more worried about points than players.
That’s why Burnley boss Sean Dyche was seen by many as the voice of reason when he entered the debate.
“You know but I keep hearing this tag player welfare, I think players, I can only speak for ours, are really well looked after. I think their health and wellbeing is top of the list and I think we do that well here. You add in the challenge then of Covid, but we’ve given them all the information, we’re trying to stand by the rules and regulations as best we can, I’m personally still struggling to wear a mask inside the building when I’ve been tested 400 times, including in the morning, I’m not allowed in the building until I prove that I’m clear…”The Guardian
And at first glance it does seem like Sean Dyche is cutting through all the talk and the mind games of those above him in the table.
On the other hand, his comments also play into the hands of those who feel players should simply “get on with it” because they’re paid vast sums.
So the question here is… is the term player welfare being misused?
Dyche says that Burnley have informed their players as best they can about Covid.
But is handing out information about the pandemic itself enough?
Dyche, fully vaccinated and boosted himself, has left it to the players to decide whether or not they want to have the Covid vaccine. It’s a much more hands-off style than Klopp, for example, who has campaigned vocally in favour of the jab.
And many are suffering from anxiety – the uncertainty is, after all, getting to all of us.
New Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard spoke about those fears.
“It’s changing every hour, it’s changing on a daily basis, as you know it’s very unpredictable. We’re testing every day…”
“We had a situation at the weekend where one of the players was reluctant to get out of his car because he had some symptoms and he’s got a young family and the time… erm and you can totally understand his view and the situation on it…thankfully he was tested and he didn’t have a situation but that player wouldn’t have been available for me on the day, and these are the little situations people don’t see.”Sky Sports
It’s well known that high-profile bosses like Klopp and Guardiola often use the media to their advantage.
And fans of opposition clubs need no excuse to label their claims as simply moaning.
And the image Dyche portrays – a straight-talking, no-nonsense manager – carries favour with Burnley’s largely working-class fanbase. He takes up the “leader of the opposition” stance on a frequent basis.
We don’t know how these managers behave in private. And we don’t know what they say to their players behind closed doors.
Yet the increase in complaints over player welfare could fall on deaf ears if the public decide that Premier League bosses are trying to use the issue as a way of gaining a competitive advantage.
Does what a manager says in public matter as much to players as what is discussed in private?
It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s a good thing to do.
Sean Dyche confidently declared that Burnley look after their players.
But when Premier League managers issue their complaints, do they have their players’ welfare at heart every single time?
Today’s episode was written by me, Chloe Beresford, and produced by Matt Russell.