Don Hutchison: When getting tough with players works

It doesn't necessarily follow that Alan Pardew has 'lost the dressing room' by calling out players in public - sometimes it gets a reaction

Action Images / Ed Sykes Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew

It is the accusation that no football manager ever wants to have levelled at him.

When you say that a manager has lost the dressing room it should not be done lightly because it’s basically saying his next trip is the chairman’s office to pick up his P45.

It’s very, very difficult to do your job when you’ve lost the confidence and trust of the majority of your players and it is why man-management is such a vital tool for any successful boss.

You just can’t let that balance tip in favour of players who either have a grudge based on not playing or don’t believe in the manager’s methods.

So when I saw it suggested over the weekend that Alan Pardew was losing the dressing room at Newcastle United, I sat up and took notice.

Now I think if that accusation has been made because he has criticised the players publicly, then there has been a misunderstanding of the way a dressing room works.

In those minutes, hours and days after a bad defeat – or a run of bad defeats – there is a lot of things that are said and done and it is not all about protecting the players. Sometimes airing a few home truths, either privately or publicly, can have the opposite effect and galvanise players.

I speak from experience here. I was playing for Everton when I had one of the fiercest rows with a manager I’d ever had, and to an outsider it would look like an example of a dressing room that was completely out of control and a boss who had lost control.

We were playing Leeds at Goodison Park and the game finished 0-0. I was playing well but Walter Smith, who was the manager, took me off in the second half and the fans booed the decision.

Afterwards, Walter went for me verbally in the dressing room. I knew I’d played well but he was accusing me of all sorts, claiming I’d not done my job and that I was responsible for us not winning the game.

I sat there thinking ‘Stay cool, don’t say anything’ because I knew as soon as I responded all hell would break loose.

But this rant went on and on and on and I couldn’t hold my tongue. I snapped back at him telling him he was completely out of order and he’d got it wrong. Walter – who was a big man – grabbed me and had me by my shirt up against the dressing room wall.

I told him where to go and his response was forthright. “Get in the shower, get your stuff and go – you’ll never play for me again,” he yelled.

I was in the shower when his assistant Archie Knox poked his head around the corner and said the gaffer wanted to see me in the boot room. As I walked to the little room I prepared for a fight, to be honest. I was thinking, ‘I’ll let him have one punch because he’s the manager, but if he punches me twice I’ll have to react.’

Walter sat me down and asked me if I was all right. ‘No,’ I said. Then he asked me whether I thought Duncan Ferguson was a hard man. Yes, I replied.

He asked me the same about Dave Watson and David Unsworth. ‘They might be hard men but they didn’t stand up for you in there,’ he said. ‘I’m impressed you did stand up.’

He decided to take the club captaincy off big Dunc that day and give it to me because he wanted to see a reaction: he wanted a character who stood his corner and fought. It didn’t go down too well with Duncan but I walked away feeling like a million dollars. Sometimes you need that kind of thing to turn a corner.

I looked at Newcastle on Wednesday and saw too many players hiding. Papiss Cisse was atrocious. These players need to have a bit of fight and Alan might be right to get tough with them. They can’t have a day off after losing like that – it sends a message of weakness.

Alan’s big problem is where are those characters in the Newcastle dressing room? Does he have enough?

I look at Tim Krul, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson: they’re the characters who I think Alan needs to get in his office and get the rest of the players on his side.

I think he lost a lieutenant in Yohan Cabaye.

He was clearly influential and convinced some of those French players to play. I think Moussa Sissoko looks like one, so does Yoan Gouffran. Can he use those players?

When I was at West Ham with Alan it was in the early days of his managerial career and his idea for that club was to bring in younger players.

He had signed Nigel Reo-Coker, Jobi McAnuff and Marlon Harewood and that meant the end for the experienced heads like myself, Christian Dailly and Steve Lomas. I lost count of the number of times he told me I would never play for him again. I think he wanted me off the wage bill.

By then I’d been around the block a bit and thought ‘I’ll stick this out because I’m confident I’m a good enough player to get back into this team’.

He had mixed success with the younger players: Jobi had a fantastic attitude and worked his socks off, along with other lads like Anton Ferdinand, who came through the Academy and worked really, really hard.

Others, like Reo-Coker and Harewood, didn’t work out.

They weren’t up to it and Alan started to put his arm around us older lads again because he needed us.

I think, knowing Alan, he will have learned from that but he needs his players now and they need to look at themselves and start performing.

He is under massive pressure but so are they. They haven’t done it for him since the New Year.


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