Arsenal - Does dropping stars work?

Vermaelen High Ball

A number of high profile players at high profile clubs have been dropped from their teams this season - recently most notably the Arsenal duo of Wojciech Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen.

For some players it’s a challenge, to raise their game and fight for their place in the team but, for others, it’s meant disenchantment with the manager and even catalyzed their departure from the club.

It’s a tricky situation for any manager – one of your most important players is performing well below par. For one reason or another, they’ve been inconsistent, unfocused, or just plain rubbish and it’s come to a head.

You can’t keep your faith in the player any longer. You have to force the issue with them. You’ve likely had a conversation with the player already and you’ve presumably assessed their application and attitude in training.

It takes nerves of steel to drop that bomb, though. It’s a tough test that even the best man managers get wrong sometimes – the problem is, you never know how the individual is going to react.

Take Wojceich Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal as apt recent examples. The former, a young Polish goalkeeper, took his benching with relative grace.

His father, however, did not – Mr Szczesny Senior bad-mouthed the manager and the medical staff and came out with a diatribe of excuses to explain his son’s lack of form.

Szczesny Junior ended up having to apologies profusely to the club, the manager and the fans for his father’s outburst.

The 22-year-old stopper has yet to reclaim his place from Lukasz Fabianski (incidentally also Polish) and in fact is now appearing for the reserves, with whom he conceded 3 goals last night against Liverpool.

His confidence has obviously taken a hit, he’s likely embarrassed by his father’s comments and his form has gone out the window. There is also speculation that manager Arsene Wenger will replace him this summer.

Conversely, Vermaelen, Arsenal’s captain, took it on the chin, kept his head down and his mouth shut. He was brought on in the second half of the Gunners’ 2-1 victory at West Brom after Per Mertesacker was sent off.

The Belgian centre-back performed well, kept his team’s lead protected and was well organized. He will likely come in to Wenger’s team now at least whilst Mertesacker serves his ban.

Meanwhile, at Real Madrid, Spain captain and World Cup winner Iker Casillas has been dropped by Jose Mourinho. The skipper has subsequently fallen out with the boss and has spent the majority of the season since December on the bench at the Bernabeu.

He’s outlined his belief that his dropping was due to personal reasons relating to his relationship with his manager whilst Mourinho asserted that Casillas had become ‘too comfortable’ and, effectively, needed a good kick up the backside.

He’s now linked with a move this summer – ‘anywhere’ll do’ seems to be his agent’s brief – unless Mourinho leaves at the end of the season instead, of course. It’s not far off ‘my way of the highway’ posturing at this stage.

Back in England, Wayne Rooney went through a ‘dodgy’ patch earlier on this term and was subsequently dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson. Rooney didn’t say a word, focused on getting his place back and when he got his opportunities, he grabbed them with both hands.

From his demeanor one would assume he understood that he had not been performing well enough, acknowledged that the manager probably knew best and got on with it. He has since scored 13 goals in his last 17 appearances for United.

What can we learn from this quartet? Well, some players respect authority more than others, some players really do want what’s best for the team and others are motivated by self-interested.

Some players have humility, decorum and pride whilst others have arrogance, impatience and egos. Some, like young Szczesny, have precarious self-confidence and embarrassing family members. Others, like Casillas have medals galore and, some might argue, have earned the right to speak their mind.

Managers ought to know their players well enough to know which kind of player they have on their hands. They ought not be surprised by the reaction to a spell on the bench.

Some people respond positively to tough love. Some people wither and withdraw. It’s a 50-50 chance you take when you drop a star from a great height.

image: © ronmacphotos

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