While Marina Hyde writes about the irony of Villas-Boas “going in-depth” to investigate Fernando Torres’ comments about his midfield team mates at Chelsea, how will Wrexham’s own freedom of speech spat pan out?
Or should I say our second spat? Chris Blackburn complained about his status-admittedly in more private circumstances-and was swiftly shown the door. Hopefully the Chris Maxwell situation will have a very different conclusion.
The key question is, by confronting the goalkeeper who is, to my eyes, comfortably the best I’ve seen in the Conference since we dropped out of the Football League, has Dean Saunders addressed and solved an important issue, or have we alienated the man we could least afford to lose?
I’ll lay my cards on the table immediately; judged on footballing grounds alone I strongly feel that Dean Saunders should have returned Chris Maxwell to the side, and when I arrived at Barrow on Saturday and realised he hadn’t, my heart sank. I blogged about this last week; the reaction to Mayebi’s performance against Kidderminster was rather hysterical; he did okay, but there was only one save he made that I’d really consider to be difficult, and it was the least eye-catching one.
The excitement about his efforts alarmed me, partly because it pressed some very particular buttons for me. I used to be a goalkeeper, and my experiences made me believe very strongly that outfield players just don’t fully understand the position. As almost all managers are outfield players, that means they often come to the wrong conclusions over their keepers, often with costly results. I think that happened at Barrow; Saunders didn’t just reprimand Maxwell because he had to be told off; he did it because he felt he could rely on Mayebi to stand in for him. Sadly, what happened at Holker Street was bound to happen sooner or later.
On the other hand, while obviously the disaster at Barrow vindicated me on one level, listening to Saunders’ post-match explanation, I couldn’t help following his logic.
I admire Saunders. He’s developed, matured and improved remarkably during his time as our manager. Even my wife, who pretends not to like footballl but secretly follows it, agrees: she spent the first year or so of his tenure unable to take to him, and would huff anf puff whenever he was mentioned, but now seems to think he’s the best thing on earth. (Well, second best.)
So let’s be frank. If he made the decision based on goalkeeping ability it was a mistake; Maxwell’s a terrific keeper. If you couldn’t tell what the inevitable outcome would be once you saw the team sheets on Saturday then I’d like to know if you’re interested in placing a large personal wager with me on the outcome of the upcoming Wladimir Klitchko-Stacey Solomon bout.
However, in many ways, Saunders has done nothing more than stick to his guns in an admirable way. He told his squad if a player performs he’d keep his shirt, and in sticking with Mayebi he kept that promise, to the benefit of squad morale, as nothing creates malcontents quicker than making people feel they’ll be denied a fair crack of the whip.
There was also a confusion about the chronology of events in Saunders’ post-match comments; he seemed to say that Mayebi would have kept his place anyway; had that decision been made known to the squad? I must admit that I didn’t find Maxwell’s comments particularly inflammatory and felt they could be interpreted as the sort of thing you want to hear from a hungry player, but if he made them knowing he’d been left out, I suppose that does put a slightly different gloss on them and meant Saunders had to act.
Mark Currie suggested in his post-match analysis in the Daily Post that it was a defeat worth suffering to make a point to Maxwell. I don’t discount the notion that a defeat can make you stronger, although I can hardly think Saunders went into the game feeling he’d cut his nose off to spite his face in order to get his message across.
The key thing is what happens on Saturday. If Maxwell is restored to the side then hopefully we can put all this behind us, but we don’t know what was said between the keeper and his manager. What if Saunders had said he’d have to sit out a couple of games as punishment? What if Maxwell felt, having had to prove himself at the start of both the previous seasons that he was number one, that he was being undermined again and began to see his future as lying elsewhere? Hopefully it will all be put to bed against York; this is one issue we definitely don’t want to run and run.