DURING the summer, I asked Paul Fairclough, the former Barnet manager, to name the most difficult player he’d ever worked with.
“Nicky Bailey,” he said. “He’s a fantastic player but back then he was an angry young man. He was full of anger, the kind of guy who would fight his own shadow.”
These days, of course, Bailey is a model pro who has plied his trade at Charlton, Middlesbrough and now Millwall. And as Fairclough attests, he wouldn’t have got there without the blazing rage that gave his old manager such a headache.
That’s why all managers love a player with fire in his belly. They know he’ll take defeat personally, relish every battle and scrap just for the hell of it. But when that fire becomes an inferno, you’ve got trouble.
Like Bailey, Peterborough striker Lee Tomlin could once have been described as an angry young man.
Back in his Non-League days with Rushden & Diamonds, I watched him collect cards like Carlos Tevez collects speeding tickets.
Rants at the ref, tempestuous late tackles, riot-inducing celebrations and fights with opponents were as much a part of his game as the weaving runs and balletic balance that enticed the Posh to shell out £200,000 for his services in 2010.
It was like watching Wayne Rooney for England; capable of match-winning brilliance, but just as likely to steam two-footed into a full-back.
Ironically, last week’s red card against Colchester – his sixth in as many seasons – was one of Tomlin’s lesser offences, a tetchy tangle with Craig Eastmond that could easily have been a yellow.
But the reaction that followed – a crazed touchline hissy fit that saw Tomlin physically restrained by boss Darren Ferguson – suggests the old fury has not abated.
As a neutral, I love to watch players like Tomlin. He’s far more exciting than the kind of dull, “model pro” who says the right things in interviews and never tries anything flamboyant. Give me Adel Taarabt over Scott Parker any day.
I just worry that other managers won’t feel the same way. At 24, Tomlin is too old to be throwing tantrums on the pitch. As a teenager, it displayed his passion. Now, it just makes him look like he can’t control himself.
At clubs like Peterborough, that’s fine. Their modus operandi is collecting waifs, strays and bad lads, then polishing them into gems. They’ll take the odd red card or bust-up if there’s a promotion or a profit at the end of it.
But bigger clubs? Yes, Celtic made a deadline day bid. But they, too, can afford the odd liability. They win pretty much every game of the season no matter who is on the pitch. And there’s no guarantee they’ll come back in January.
Tomlin is a Championship player. He might even be a Premier League player. He has all the tools. But at that level, it’s about having the right mentality too.
And if I’d been a top-flight manager watching Tomlin kick off at Layer Road, I’d probably have scratched him off my list and said ‘Next’.
CISAK NEEDS A QUICK WIN
YOU’VE got to feel sympathy for Burnley’s Aussie goalkeeper Alex Cisak, who is suing the surgeon he claims left him with chronic pain in his wrist.
“I’m taking painkillers,” said the 24-year-old, who suffered the initial injury while playing for Leicester’s youth team five years ago.
“I’m training at 75 per cent of what I should be at. It has also affected me mentally, because I am pulling out of shots. It is harming my development because I can’t fully train.”
You can’t blame Cisak for seeking compo. His hands are the tools of his trade and if somebody’s bodged them, he is entitled to their cash.
But he’d better hope he wins, and big. Because with quotes like that, I can’t see many managers racing to offer him a new contract.
CLARETS CAN GO UP – IF DYCHE STAYS
NAME a Burnley player. Now name another. Right, so you got Sam Vokes and Danny Ings. Bet you’re struggling now though, eh?
At Turf Moor on Saturday, I could identify all of QPR’s players by sight. They’ve all been on Match of the Day, all been plastered on billboards across the land.
When it came to the Clarets, however, I definitely needed my team sheet.
On paper, the home side were underdogs. You would then, expect their 2-0 win to be the result of greater endeavour, of an up-and-at-’em attitude in a hostile ground.
Yet while they certainly did not lack effort, the truth is that Burnley were better in every sense – quicker, sharper, more confident on the ball and more intelligent without it.
In other words, all of the things you’d expect from a technically superior team.
For that, Sean Dyche must take enormous credit. While he has benefited from a settled team, he has also been brave enough to leave it alone.
No resting, no “tired legs”. He knows victories will always keep fatigue at bay.
More importantly, however, he has taken a side of Premier League rejects like Dean Marney, Ben Mee, Kieran Trippier and Michael Kightly, and imbued them with the confidence and belief to pass, move and use the ball like a top-flight team.
I still believe QPR will go up. I still believe they’ve got plenty in the tank. But last week, they had no answers to Burnley’s class.
To me, that says the Clarets are serious contenders but only if a) the first XI stays fit and b) a Premier League club doesn’t recognise the huge talent in the dugout and lure Dyche away.
BIG CLUB MANAGERS ARE MAKING CAPITAL OUT OF A FIRST TROPHY
SO much for big clubs shunning the League Cup. This time last year we had Leeds, Middlesbrough and, of course, Bradford slugging it out in the quarter-finals. Naturally we were told that they were there only because Premier League managers didn’t take the competition seriously.
This year, however, Leicester are the only lower league side left and the semi-finals look like they’ll be contested by Man City, Man United, Spurs and Chelsea.
So what’s changed? Partly, it’s the luck of the draw. But bear in mind that Manuel Pellegrini, Andre Villas-Boas and David Moyes are all new to their jobs and all under pressure to win a first trophy for clubs used to domestic domination.
In that light, the Capital One Cup is less an inconvenience and more easy meat. It is, then, little wonder that Football League sides have been trampled in the goldrush.