x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Money and power of the players is divisive

All is not well in the Chelsea's dressing room and it all stems from the Bosman ruling.

Didier Drogba, left, and John Terry are two of the highest paid players in the Chelsea team. Carlo Ancelotti has his work cut out to recapture the side’s team spirit.
Didier Drogba, left, and John Terry are two of the highest paid players in the Chelsea team. Carlo Ancelotti has his work cut out to recapture the side’s team spirit.

Sir Alex Ferguson said recently that he would hate to be starting out in management today.

He explained that the culture and mentality of players had changed from when he began. He is not wrong.

My old Manchester United manager is 69 today and, while I am a lot younger, the attitude of players has changed enormously since I played.

One thing made that possible, the Bosman ruling in 1995. Almost overnight, the power shifted from the club to the player.

Years ago, when Ferguson was a footballer (he used to joke in training that he was the best striker in Scotland and he must have been half decent as he played for Glasgow Rangers), players had very little power.

The clubs held their contract and decided if they wanted to renew it or not. If a club told a player at the end of the season that they were not renewing his contract then there was nothing he could do about it. Clubs could even stop players joining another club even if their contract had expired.

Since Bosman, players can sign a pre-contract agreement with another club when they have six months of their current deal remaining.

The top players can let their contracts run down if they choose, because they know there will be a new club and lucrative signing-on fee. Steve McManaman joined Real Madrid on a free transfer and Edgar Davids left Ajax for AC Milan on a free.

The upshot is that clubs try to keep their players happy because they do not want them to leave on a free transfer - especially if they have paid a fee for them - and that gives the player the advantage.

Clubs try to renegotiate contracts early so their best players don't run down their contracts, but they have to factor in what a replacement would cost, so the player can push for a bigger deal.

The Bosman ruling helped the players earn more money, but too much player power can be a bad thing.

When I look at Chelsea I see a club with an unhappy dressing room. Many of the players have gone to Chelsea because they are top payers and money was one of their key motivations. Money will always be a factor for players, but it should not be the only one.

For various reasons, Chelsea have imploded. People within the club are saying that everything will be OK and they beat Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday, but they have gone from being clear at the top of the Premier League to four points behind the Manchester clubs.

The win against Bolton was their first in seven matches and that is dreadful form by their very high standards, their worst of the Roman Abramovich era.

I see several problems at Stamford Bridge. The players are speaking out about their frustrations on the pitch and the atmosphere appears poor. When that happens a club can get in a negative cycle where players blame each other privately and publicly.

I experienced it at Blackburn Rovers and it was horrible. Training stops becoming enjoyable and you start to hate your job. A player at Chelsea is more likely to speak out because he has got the security of a big contract and plenty of other options if it doesn't work out.

I have faith in Carlo Ancelotti, though. He may not have control of the dressing room like Ferguson does, but he is a very good coach who presents himself well. He became the first in Chelsea's history to win the double in one season and did well both domestically and in Europe with Milan.

He does not have it easy and I suspect he gets undermined from above. He also didn't have a say in Ray Wilkins, his assistant, getting sacked.

Key decisions are being made without him knowing - no wonder he looks bewildered when he is asked questions to which he does not know the answer. The more selfish players sense that and use it to their advantage. Abramovich always said that he wanted Chelsea to be self-sufficient by 2010. We are about to move into 2011 and Chelsea don't come close to breaking even.

They have let go of some big names, like Michael Ballack, and they are not spending stupid money like before. Contract negotiations have become more protracted and public. Chelsea are no longer a soft touch money wise, yet their squad is still very good, even if it has been exposed as an ageing one by recent injuries.

Chelsea are not going to come closer to self-sufficiency by sacking Ancelotti and making another huge compensation pay off like they made to Luiz Felipe Scolari last year. And they are not going to improve unless their players have a bit more humility and rediscover what made them winners in the first place.


Andrew Cole is the second leading goalscorer in Premier League history. His column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.