Birmingham City manager Lee Clark last week publicly criticised club striker Nikola Zigic for his poor performance in training which left the former Huddersfield Town manager ‘absolutely disgusted’. However, when a player underperforms, for whatever reason, is it advisable to go public or should the matter be dealt with in-house?
By Marc Eadie – @Eadie84
While Clark may have opted to lambast Zigic, his fellow young manager Neil Lennon, of Celtic, had a similar choice to make last week. As his side hosted Champions League opponents Juventus in what was one of their biggest games in years, Lennon saw his side slump to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Serie A champions. While Celtic were aggrieved at the manner of Juventus’ aggressive defending – particularly from set pieces – the truth is that the borderline, rule-breaking tactic by the Italians only frustrated Celtic and, at worst, denied them a penalty. It didn’t cost them the three goals; Efe Ambrose did.
The Nigerian defender, back from African Cup of Nations duty the morning of the game, was put straight into the starting eleven and had an abysmal performance. His individual errors cost Celtic the first and third goals and his second-half header could have changed his side’s fortunes. The harsh truth is that Efe Ambrose was to blame for Celtic falling to such a heavy score line and effectively ending the tie. How Lennon dealt with it would be intriguing.
Lennon chose not to criticise Ambrose. Despite obviously being frustrated by his poor performance he remained loyal to his player and instead defended him. Of course, the ‘man-handling’ from the Juventus players has been a welcome distraction – especially for Ambrose – as the green half in Glasgow has focused more on their opponents’ tactics. It was easy for Lennon to stick the knife in, but he didn’t, and credit must be given to a manager so often criticised for his comments in the press.
The benefit of that loyalty may already have been shown as Celtic swept aside Premier League opponents Dundee United with a convincing 6-2 victory on Saturday. While they may be nowhere near the class of Juventus, such a dominant performance against one of the stronger SPL sides will surely give the side a great lift after the midweek loss. In fact, Ambrose himself was on the score sheet against United, scoring the goal that put Celtic level after they had fallen behind early on.
While Clark and Lennon faced very different situations with their players, both still boiled down to them having the same choice to make; criticise a player for a poor performance or deal with it behind the preying eye of the press and public.
We, the general public, don’t know how Lennon dealt privately with Ambrose, and we probably don’t have to. All we know is that the Northern Irishman has shown public solidarity to his player and in doing so has surely aided Ambrose and Celtic.
While Clark may have wanted the fans to know how poor Zigic was (bearing in mind a training session will not be televised and viewed by millions like the Champions League was), choosing to bear all can surely only put further distance between himself and the player? Zigic has been pushed closer to the exit door while Lennon has pulled a deflated Ambrose back under his wing. I know where I’d rather be.
Was Lee Clark right or wrong? What about Neil Lennon? Or does it all depend on the personality of the player? Comment below or give us your thoughts on Twitter @talkingbaws.