Action begets reaction, which begets action, which begets reaction, and once a situation develops, the effects can be far reaching – in some cases resulting in an impasse. I’ve written about Fergie’s “public telling off” of Danny for “showing off a bit” before (with regards to it’s impact on Danny), but on further reflection, a few years on, I also think it could be indicative of another issue: Fergie’s status anxiety.
In an interview with The Sunday Times recently, Danny spoke of his need to impress Fergie, clearly showing that the shadows cast by Fergie’s reaction to that fateful celebration remain prevalent, which for me raises a question against aspects of Fergie’s all conquering management style. Successful “man-management”, as we all know, is about managing the players individually and collectively, but it stands to reason that somewhere along the way, as the law of entropy dictates, even those considered the best, will – at some point – get something wrong.
Fergie’s very straightforward way of dealing with the players he’s found “difficult” (sticking his size tens up their backsides at the Old Trafford exit), has in many ways become a strong motif for his overall management style, but even by his own admission, it hasn’t always been the correct prescription. It’s very black and white, whereas people are everything inbetween. It could be said that it’s indicative of a lack of an emotional intelligence in a given situation (without suggesting Fergie posseses none), but who’s suggesting that’s a prerequisite for success in football? Certainly not Fergie, as he points to his trophy cabinet smugly. It would, however, be fair to say, as the above example of his no-nonsense dealing with players suggests, that he manages via a “old-fashioned” hegemony, which for him (and us) very much works. Within this framework Fergie has, to his credit, shown flexibility, and made exceptions to his rules for a select few, allowing players such as Eric and Roy Keane to exercise considerably more autonomy compared with others, and you could argue, in the case of these two examples, that that was exactly the right thing to do. The question then: why wouldn’t that exception be made for a player like Danny?
Taking aside subjective opinions on Danny’s skillset, compared with the likes of Eric and Roy, you have to say that it’s fairly straightforward: Danny (as well as just about every other player in the recent history of the club) just isn’t in the same league as those two players, in terms of stature and influence. So it stands to reason he wouldn’t be afforded the same “favouritism”. But, that’s not to say he doesn’t need to be treated differently, as an individual, to get the best out of him. I think in the way Danny has been specifically handled, there’s more to it.
Showing arrogance, or an overt display of supreme confidence, is an extremely effective tool for gaining the upper-hand in the particularly masculine arena of football; but displayed inappropriately is repugnant. I genuinely think you’d be hard pushed to say that Danny’s behaviour finds him falling into the latter category. Danny struts and swaggers with all the hallmarks of an excited child who has grown up aping his televised footballing heroes in the school playground, which has in turn informed his adult posturing, but on the evidence of the very mature way he conducts himself in interviews, I personally think it’s misguided to project that it’s anything more than that. His posturing is certainly not repugnant. Of course, the line is that it’s Fergie who has successfully tempered that side of his character – knocked it on the head early – with the aforementioned very public action (and presumably subsequent private reminders), but to my mind, the actual effects of those actions have had a far removed effect.
What creates a better player? Nature, or nurture? One of life’s ubiquitous questions (although personally I’ve never been sure if such a thing as a natural, innate ability exists, I’ll refer to it as “nature” regardless – meaning those skills a player brings to professional football, not those they are taught). Modern fooballers are vending machines, drilled mannequins in a results-based industry who, without doubt, cannot simply survive (as may have been the case once) by turning up on a Saturday with their boots tucked under their arm and a dream in their heart (as beautiful as that sounds and as much as I might really, really want that to be the case). BUT, undoubtedly their unique skill-set, those little tricks and character traits attached to them with an asterix, will be the thing that sets them apart from the rest. If players – in this instance Danny – are stripped of aspects of their nature, how are they expected to set themselves apart? I believe in the moulding of Danny into what Fergie perceives is best for him, but a little bit of what made Danny ‘Danny’ has been lost along the way.
Could it be Fergie’s malcontent with the new footballing world order, and the coming insurrection that will bring the existing empires to their knees, that has seen Fergie seek out an example? Danny, in many ways, represents a new breed of modern footballer, of the like Fergie hasn’t really had that much to do with. In recent years, Fergie has dealt with youth products pretty much to type (as with senior players): if he hasn’t liked them, or they haven’t made the grade quick enough, he’s given them the shove. Fergie knows Danny is different. Not only in terms of his ability but, just as importantly, in terms of his attitude. However, that still didn’t stop him laying down his public marker. As I’ve written before, and still strongly believe, leaving others feeling as if they aren’t good enough is purely a reflection of our own inferiority. To consolidate the anxiety you have with regards to your own status, you need a fall guy. Fergie is, bit by bit, losing his authority, but he can still exercise control over his players when feeling under pressure and can sometimes, because he’s human, go too far.
My intention with this post is to be pro-Welbeck and not Anti-Fergie, but I do think Fergie got this one wrong. I don’t think the initial issue with Danny over-celebrating needed to be made so public (if addressed at all). I think Fergie, without feeling directly threatened by modern football, has concerns and struggles with it (don’t all of us?) and will try, and has tried, to claim small victories over it – this being one of them. I’m not suggesting that what I’m suggesting has brought about an overt crisis of confidence in Danny, but I really feel that in unsettling him, and therefore forcing him to live up to the exacting standards Fergie has set out (according to his own personal expectations of him), has stunted his growth and continues to. I think that’s a shame. I see a player, sometimes looking awkward on the pitch, shuffling to the beat of Fergie’s drum – I want to see Danny dance.