There has been a story in my mind all week, one that involves the Bolton manager, Ian Evatt, and his loanee goalkeeper, Billy Crellin.
Last Saturday, Bolton drew 1-1 at Cambridge. They had been leading but Crellin, a 20-year-old on loan from Fleetwood, scored an own goal.
After the game, Evatt’s emotions were running high but he made the conscious decision to speak to radio reporters – and pin the blame firmly on Crellin.
Bolton boss Ian Evatt was widely criticised for his efforts to publicly shame his goalkeeper
‘He cost us the first goal, in my opinion, at Barrow on Tuesday and maybe the second one as well, and then today,’ said Evatt. ‘This is me saying to him publicly “man up”. I’ve had that conversation privately. This is a man’s game, three points are at stake and my team deserved to win.’
A backlash followed to such an extent that Evatt publicly apologised 48 hours later, insisting he had expressed himself poorly. The pair made headlines again on Tuesday night, as Crellin saved a penalty in 1-0 win over Bradford, Bolton’s first success in League Two this season.
I don’t know Ian Evatt, so I can’t make a judgement on him as a person. What I can judge, however, is the situation around his words. I was flabbergasted both by the language he used and the choice he made to publicly criticise a young lad.
Evatt said young loanee ‘keeper Billy Crellin has cost his side goals and given away points
To be clear, football is not a friendly environment. I remember how it was when I was trying to make my way at Manchester City. Some of the experiences I endured and some of things I heard said meant you had to develop a thick skin. If you didn’t, you would get left behind.
One of my first training sessions, when I was 16, sticks in my mind. I was playing with the reserves, as they were called then, in centre midfield. This particular day, I kept giving the ball away and Alex Gibson, a coach who I absolutely loved, brought things to a halt.
‘There’s no chance of you making it if you can’t pass five yards,’ he shouted.
All the older lads burst out laughing, as I stood on my own. I ended up walking off crying, as I was so embarrassed. I used to take everything to heart but, though it was hard to hear, Alex’s strong words were always delivered with the right intentions.
It was the same with Jim Cassell, the vastly-respected Academy Director, Frankie Bunn or Paul Power. They were trying to prepare for you life in man’s arena, helping you understand it was going to be tough and you had to be ready for all that was going to be demanded of you.
As it turned out, the session that ended in tears was actually the best thing that could have happened for me. I became ready to stand up for myself, I won the respect of my team-mates and was able to progress.
Managers do not tend to hang players out in public, and Roberto Mancini (left) never did
Of course there were times at City when I didn’t play well.
There was, though, a key difference. Whatever criticism managers may have had was never aired in public. Stuart Pearce could say some cutting things to you in training ground – “Oi! Back to basics!” was a favourite phrase if he felt you were underperforming – but he never took them to the media.
It was the same with Sven-Goran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini. Managers do not tend to hang players out in public and I have always felt that anyone who does is being cowardly and trying to deflect attention away their own shortcomings.
That reminds me of Vincenzo Montella, my coach at Fiorentina in 2013-14. He was asked at a press conference when I hadn’t been playing whether I would get more game time. He replied that “my fitness levels were not up to scratch” and also questioned my understanding of tactics.
Those comments kept resurfacing when I was at Villa. A perception had been created that I didn’t look after myself, that I wasn’t reliable. I still get angry thinking about it now, as it was effectively questioning my professionalism. I lost all my respect for Montella.
Do not confuse me as someone who cannot take criticism or thinks there is no place for it in football. I actually feel the sport is almost too nice now and it is certainly a world away from what it was like when I started out.
Stuart Pearce could say some cutting things in private but he never took them into the media
There has to be honesty and there has to be room for constructive criticism if you are going to be a winner. The best managers create environment where they can say these things in the privacy of the training ground. Whatever gets said in that sanctuary stays behind closed doors.
What I took exception to with Ian Evatt was the words “man up” – when we are being so considerate to people’s mental health, what was he trying to achieve? Players have long memories and Billy Crellin, who is still trying to find his way in life never mind football, will not forget this.
There is no place for language like that in football. We have made such progress in terms of what is considered acceptable since I started out. I hope there are no more repeats.
This week’s column could not pass without paying my respects to Jeremy Wisten.
I did not know Jeremy and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise. I suspect, however, that he would have been exactly like me when he arrived at Manchester City’s Academy, a young boy filled with hopes and dreams.
He was released by City in 2018 and I would not wish to speculate about how he felt about football after he left the club.
Former Man City prospect Jeremy Wisten, who joined the club in 2016, has died at the age of 17
City do have comprehensive measures in place to support players when they leave the academy, with the support process beginning before they leave for the last time and Jeremy’s sudden has had a profound effect on staff at the club.
I cannot begin to imagine the pain his family are experiencing after his sudden passing and the empty space that will be in their lives without him.
Tragedy is a word that is regularly used in regard to football and the context is rarely right. On this occasion, regrettably, it is the only suitable term.
Micah’s moment of the week
It is never good seeing a player pull up with an injury, particularly one with a big influence. So having lost Virgil van Dijk, it was a major blow for Liverpool to lose Fabinho on Tuesday.
He’s going to miss a chunk of games with his hamstring issue and while it is not extremely serious, he will be absent for next Sunday’s clash with Manchester City. When the big games come around, you want to see all the big, important players playing.
Fabinho will be a huge loss for Liverpool and his absence will be sorely felt against Man City
If everyone is involved, there can never be excuses from the losing team such “oh, we didn’t have him!” I’m not saying Liverpool are a team that makes excuses, far from it, but there is no doubt they are going to feel Fabinho’s absence.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how Liverpool get through this period. I’m sure there will be a reaction to the challenge facing Jurgen Klopp’s side and I’m looking forward to see how they cope against West Ham.