“Come in, son, and sit down. I’ve got some good news for you,” said Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough to Stuart Pearce.
“Great, what is it boss?” replied his skipper.
“I’ve had a phone call and you’ve been picked for England.”
“Wow! That’s fantastic,” said Pearce.
“Do you think you’re good enough for England?” said Clough. “Cos I don’t.”
Pearce tells the story with some relish in his autobiography – and it demonstrates the sometimes strange psychology between managers and their players.
You can only guess that Clough was trying to keep the defender from getting too big for his boots after his international call-up.
But every player is different and part of the art of being a good boss is knowing who needs a consoling word and who needs the proverbial ‘kick up the backside’.
How, for instance, do you tell a player that he’s dropped from the team? Indeed, do you even have to give an explanation? After all, these are professionals for whom it should be all part of the job.
"You can only guess that Clough was trying to keep the defender from getting too big for his boots after his international call-up."
The great old Spurs boss Bill Nicholson faced a complaint from one player, who said: “You never tell us how good we are.”
“Yes I do,” he snapped. “If you’re name is on the team sheet that’s when I tell you if you’re any good.”
Managers have to be sensitive at times, brutal at others. The former Pompey boss Tony Pulis had a left-back at Gillingham who kept ignoring team tactics.
At half-time and 2-0 down, the unfortunate player attempted to explain himself. “I just thought that…”
“Stop there,” said Pulis. “That’s when you worry me. When you start trying to think. Just do what I say and we’ve got half a chance.”
These days players have more power and managers generally have to tread a little more diplomatically.
But another ex-Pompey boss Harry Redknapp probably summed it up best. “The 11 players you pick every week think you’re a genius. The others think you’re an idiot.”
That is why you often hear managers paying lavish compliments in media interviews to those who are not even in their team. It is a little bit of psychology trying to keep them onside.
The truth is that it’s just about impossible to keep everyone happy, although Jurgen Klopp seems to be giving it a pretty good try at Liverpool this season!
This column first appeared in this season's Pompey v Sunderland matchday magazine.