x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Money not the best motivation for footballing success

It hurt me to be left on the bench but some players seem happy as long as they are picking up the wages.

Samir Nasri, left, and Gael Clichy were Arsenal teammates last season. Both have now made the move to Manchester City.
Samir Nasri, left, and Gael Clichy were Arsenal teammates last season. Both have now made the move to Manchester City.

In crowded squads, some standout players seem to place more importance on wages than their time on the pitch

So how does a manager keep six players happy when they are vying for two positions? It's simple. He doesn't.

That's why I smiled when I heard my old boss Sir Alex Ferguson say recently that he will use all of the seven strikers at Manchester United this season.

And I did the same at Roberto Mancini's predicament after Manchester City signed Samir Nasri this week, no matter how versatile he is.

It will be almost impossible for both to keep all their players happy. Even appreciating the squad systems, players will have a certain number of games in their mind which they will hope to start this season, with 30 the magic number.

Play that many games and you have put a shift in for your team, earned your wage. Play less than half the matches, especially if most of them are in less important games, and you start to feel like the team would be OK without you.

I know; I've been there. I left Old Trafford because I wasn't playing enough. I saw the number of games I started decrease and when it went below 30 my thoughts switched to leaving.

Teammates such as Roy Keane told me that I'd be mad to leave, so did Ferguson. I wouldn't listen and left at the start of 2002.

Money wasn't important, I'd made enough. Playing as much football in a short career was. I didn't want to fester and become angry and not playing. That wouldn't have been good for anyone.

Three years earlier I'd been content when there were four strikers fighting for two places at United.

Well, sort of. I'd get very frustrated if I scored a goal or two and played well, only for the manager to pull me to one side and say: "I'm not going to start you in the next game because I want you for the weekend."

I didn't want to play for personal glory or to finish top of any goal scoring charts. Personal glory adds up to nothing. Team glory is what football is all about and I wanted to be part of that team as much as possible.

Unfortunately it wasn't always feasible because the manager had to keep four strikers relatively happy and I had to take it on the chin when I was dropped.

In hindsight, the manager was right and I was wrong. He was putting the team first, conserving his strikers and getting the best out of us by keeping us hungry.

It didn't seem so at the time when I didn't start in vital matches, but it made me more determined when I came off the bench.

That's what I did against Tottenham Hotspur in the last game of the 1999 league season when United needed to win to be sure of the title.

Being dropped for that match was like a slap in the face and I sat fuming on the bench with fellow substitute, Jaap Stam.

When it was my time to go on, I told Jaap that I'd score and run to the bench to celebrate with him. I did score, but my teammates were all over me and I couldn't get anywhere near Jaap.

Ferguson showed that four strikers can go into two, but any more and I'm convinced it's impossible to juggle, especially with big names. Dimitar Berbatov was left out of the Champions League final and didn't even make the bench. He must have been devastated. Last season's Premier League joint top scorer is one of seven strikers at United. Maybe he's biding his time to see if the situation changes because he doesn't strike me as the type of player to be happy warming the bench.

I'm not convinced that some players are bothered about playing the magical 30 games, though. They seem happy on the sidelines earning vast amounts.

The arrival of Nasri at City this week will add to the already fierce competition for places at the Etihad Stadium and another high-profile and high-earning player will have to warm the bench to accommodate him.

Nasri is a curious character. He said last year that Arsenal "had more merit as a club than those who have built their teams with millions of pounds". Yet now he is at the richest club in the world. He's a very good player, but from those I've spoken to at the Emirates he'll be missed as a player, but not as a person.

Gael Clichy echoed similar sentiments in 2008 - "I really believe if you are a player who only thinks about money then you could end up at Manchester City" - and he, too, ended up at City this summer.

Maybe they'll prove me wrong and both play 50 games a season. Maybe they were childhood Man City fans and dreamed of playing there, but excuse me for being a little cynical on this one.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten