Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Conflict - Damned if you do, damned if you don't?

Last Friday, sparks of controversy and conflict within my hometown football club, Birmingham City. In a press conference, club manager Lee Clark publicly criticised and dropped striker Nikola Zigic from the 16-man squad for the weekends fixture with Watford, following what Clark described as "the worst training session in terms of a professional footballer I have ever come across". As anticipated, opinions were very much split on the matter afterwards, with some supporters empathising with Zigic, and others backing the firm stance made by Clark.

Personally, knowing that Zigic is on  roughly £50,000 a week (whilst the club continue to struggle financially) and not training to the highest possible standard infuriated me, especially as the majority of supporters would be overjoyed to playing football for a living, regardless of wage.

Within the 4 frames of conflict (Fox, A – 1966), the Unitarist frame that promotes harmony and togetherness within an organisation is something that has come to be expected within sports teams - more so in the case of high profile clubs and teams who have a burden of expectancy to top leagues and win trophies. Why? Well what hope is there for a team to perform at full capacity if its levels of coherence aren't at a peak? Should this harmonious screen become cracked, quick restoration must be made to cover any presence of conflict. 

Cole was fined £90,000 fine following his tweet about the Football Association - he later deleted the tweet and apologised.
Countless examples of such quick-fire cover-ups have been seen previously, prime examples of which involving big name footballers acting irrationally on Twitter (such as Ashley Cole's outburst), in turn tarnishing their personal reputation, as well as their clubs. 

It was somewhat of a push against the grain to see a manager openly criticise a player - whether he was right to do so is a matter for supporters to debate amongst themselves. Arguments have been made that starting Zigic would have set a bad example to younger players in regards to the required work ethic (which I agree with), whereas other supporters have focused more on the needs of the team, within which Zigic has played a key role at stages over the past 2 seasons. Inevitably, criticism of the situation will be dragged out by the press in an attempt to stir up tension.

Where conflict is concerned - a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't if ever there was one?

Was the right decision made?
Is it better to openly engage with conflict rather than ignore it?
Have you found yourself in similar positions of difficulty?


  1. We've only heard one side of the argument, Zigic hasn't been allowed the freedom of speech the manager has had backed by the bullying of the club.
    Zigic like any worker should be allowed to speak to the press or say on twitter his version of events.
    Lee Clark has spoke to the press on at least three occasions to slander him, yet Zigic is victimised by not being allowed the freedom of reply.
    Just like the gagging of health workers and whitsle blowers being bullied and denied to speak out, this is another example of the bullying tactics of management and UK businesses.
    If true, i am all for his punishment, but i also believe in freedom of speech if he wants it.

    1. Thanks for your comment Chris.

      It does seem to be the case that Zigic hasn't openly expressed his viewpoint on the situation to the press. I can't speak for Clark and his ruling over players using Twitter (I know Davies, Elliott and a few others have accounts), but quite often there is a mishap involving twitter and football players.

      Do you feel that Clark could have handled the situation calmly and internally, or was speaking out to the press totally necessary in putting his foot down?


  2. I think Clark did the right thing in the circumstances but the circumstances could have been avoided. I'm surprised a lot of people are blaming Zigic solely for this, because yes he's on high wages and should be trying harder, yet how hard a footballer works for his team isn't always a black and white choice, no matter how much you'd think it ought to be. It has a lot to do with how motivated they feel to play for their manager. A good manager will get players running through brick walls for each other and I think Clark needs to take some of the responsibility, otherwise what is a managers job? To get the best out of the players. I should say that I'm not a 'Clark out'ist, and have supported him for most of the season. Not because I've got confidence in his ability, but because we have to work with what we've got for the moment if we want to avoid the dreaded drop, but I'm calling it as I see it.

    To Clark's credit, I do think he did the right thing publicly criticizing Zigic. It means that players looking on know they can't get away with the bare minimum and hopefully Zigic will buck his ideas up. But Clark, as manager, must take responsibility for it getting to this stage in the first place.

    1. Thankyou for your comment Gabriel.

      The point has been made the both sides of the story haven't been heard, although I expect it wouldn't have helped matters if Zigic had gone down the same path as Clark. If he'd issued an apology then there would have been some closure on the situation at least.

      Your point about man management is a very valid one, I expect it would be typical within most environments to manage different personalities, however a football club is a prime example of an organisation within which control and respect is needed as a figurehead.

      Do you reside with more open levels of conflict in working situations? Or are you someone who tries to compromise and keep the peace?

    2. Long comment alert!
      I'm not sure I entirely agree with you that control and respect is needed as a figurehead at a football club, however much it should be. I think it would be a mistake to compare football to ordinary working life, in terms of the way the 'workers' conduct themselves. I just don't think you can think about them in the same format.
      In most aspects of normal work, let's say for an example being an admin assistant, people don't need to be motivated. They just do their job, and if they're not happy, they hand in their few weeks notice and move onto something else. They don't need to be motivated (unless to work longer hours for more money perhaps), because admin is simple, it’s just mundane tasks that involve no effort.
      But football is different, and it’s much more complex really. It seems crazy that someone who is being paid £50K a week needs motivation to do their job, but with football, you have to define ‘doing your job’. Because the reality is, football has almost everything to do with how players feel going onto the pitch, and how determined they are to give everything for the team, and for the manager.
      I think the reality of modern football is that it’s not quite enough to say to Zigic: “look, you’re being paid £50K, you should be giving your all.” Because ‘giving your all for the team’ isn’t a choice, it’s a psychology, it’s a statement of mind. It’s based on feeling. I genuinely don’t think some people understand this enough.
      The complexity of this state of mind in football I find difficult enough to understand, let alone put into context, particularly because I’ve never been a professional footballer. But, all the things that we identify as the players giving their all, are them running tirelessly when the other team has the ball, not being afraid of tackles, and putting their bodies on the line for the sake of the team when they could get hurt. However much players will have been trained to do these things, they aren’t natural human impulses.
      What I think makes players do it, is not necessarily being paid more money, but having that desire to do it for your teammates and for your manager. In my opinion, part of a manager’s job is to motivate his players in a way that makes them do these sorts of things, in a bid to get the manager’s respect or for fear of letting him down.
      If we apply these things to the Zigic situation, of course as a player he’s got to take some of the blame, yet I think Clark had a responsibility as manager to make him train harder and get the best out of him.