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Arturo Vidal vs Ernesto Valverde and the question of player-power at top clubs

The case of Arturo Vidal at Barcelona will no doubt resonate with some fans of Bayern Munich, but are his actions justified?

Valencia CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Man, it’s hard being a top-3 football club these days. If you’re a fan of Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, you’ve probably been avoiding eye-contact at social occasions this past week or so. All three of these teams have managed a single victory between them over the last 4 games. Now, Arturo Vidal has become the first player to go public with grievances about his coach.

What did Vidal say?

Our friends at Barca Blaugranes did a quick write-up of the situation. Here is Vidal in his own words:

I am not happy but if I have a problem with the coach I will say it to his face.

How am I going to be happy if I don’t play, and me of all people. I am someone that has always fought, that has been in the best teams in the world, that has won everything and who wants to continue winning at Barcelona.

[ ... ]

It [the Judas message] was nothing to do with anything sporting and I took it down to stop people speculating. There are personal things, jokes which you can put on social media and people take the wrong way.

Source | FourFourTwo

The “Judas message” refers to an Instagram post made by Vidal in which he said one doesn’t argue with Judas; you merely wait for him to hang himself, calling to mind his coach Ernesto Valverde. The post has now been deleted, but not before it was liked by his teammate Marc Andre ter Stegen. It is being reported that Vidal feels “betrayed” by Valverde on account of a lack of playing time. Does that sound familiar?

Were the statements justified?

As someone who watches Barcelona regularly, but as a neutral, I can see why Vidal is upset. When played in his proper position, Vidal has always delivered the same exemplary performances he used to give in a Bayern Munich shirt. However, Valverde seems to prefer to use Vidal as a late-game sub for Ousmane Dembélé in order to lock down the midfield and protect a lead.

Anyone familiar with the Chilean would know that this is an egregious misuse of his talents. In fact, it would be not unlike the situation James Rodriguez seems to find himself in at Bayern, where he also has been suffering from a lack of minutes despite good performances. Yet whether a player plays or not remains the coach’s decision. When does it become right for a player to speak out about such things, if ever?

Should players be allowed to place such pressure on their manager?

The problem with player power

I’m pretty sure most people reading this are thinking, “well, Vidal was right to call out his coach.” I’m pretty sure many would feel the same about James and regard his reported agitation as justified due to the unfairness of his selection. However, what would you say if Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery complained about the same thing? Would you support them, if they called out the coach now?

The problem with player power is this: as soon as you give a player power, it’s very hard to take it back. Player A makes a fuss and gets into the lineup. Player B sees that and decides to follow suit. Say you accommodate Player B, as well, but then player C, who may or may not be a fan favorite, begins talking to the media. What if you want to make a tactical change, and players A, B, C disagree? By this point, the coach is no longer running the club; the players are. And, in general, players make very bad managers of football clubs.

However, managers are not gods. They can make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes are apparent to everyone but the person making them. In this case, wouldn’t the player be justified in complaining?

In a healthy dressing room, there needs to be a balance between player power and coach’s authority. In my opinion, the ideal approach is the one Jupp Heynckes took — no nonsense, proper communication, and playing time based on merit. Kovac and Valverde have both suffered from making decisions that are hard to justify. Perhaps if they took a more egalitarian approach, their players would be more content with their decisions.

However, one can also be too egalitarian, creating an air of anxiety and uncertainty in the dressing room. One or two bad performances should not be enough to get a player benched. It’s a fine balancing act that these coaches need to employ. That is, after all, what they signed up for, when they took the job at a top-3 club.


Are players justified in speaking out about playing time?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Yes, it’s their career on the line
    (104 votes)
  • 55%
    No, it’s the coach’s decision
    (132 votes)
236 votes total Vote Now

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