Why football’s ‘bad boys’ are worth the risk

Clarke vs Di Canio

When striker Leon Clarke publicly fell out with Paolo Di Canio he inadvertently became another of football’s supposed ‘bad boys’. But not for long. Thanks to a loan deal and a supportive manager who was willing to take a risk, Swindon Town’s loss has become Chesterfield’s gain.

Some football managers really do like a challenge. I don’t mean of the two-footed variety (although it would appear that there are still a couple of Football League bosses that seem to send their charges out with the directive to either “maim” or ‘disembowel”). No, in this instance I mean a challenge as in they are happy to sign players that are reputedly difficult to handle.

‘Bad boys’ are fairly commonplace in English football. From Arsenal’s brothel boss Peter Storey via the counterfeit king Mickey Thomas to the, um, volatile Joey Barton, we’ve seen all sorts.

The current crop varies in extremes from those that attack teammates with golf clubs to those that simply don’t like authority and let the world know it. Carlos Tevez allegedly refusing to come onto the pitch as a substitute for Manchester City against Bayern Munich is an obvious recent example.

What is interesting about this unique crop of footballers is that no matter what they do wrong (with the odd exception), there is nearly always a manager willing to back them or sign them after they’ve been transfer listed, released from prison or, generally, allowed back into the wild.

Why? Because, quite often, they’re geniuses. Fallen geniuses admittedly, but geniuses none-the-less. It’s the reason that Carlos Tevez will undoubtedly find himself another club.

Here are a few other examples: George Best, Paul Gascoigne, Tony Adams, Diego Maradona, Stan Colleymore, Eric Cantona, Frank McAvennie, Duncan Ferguson, Craig Bellamy. There’s not a Mother Teresa amongst them. The Bad Boy XI would be some team.

Strong character

Generally speaking, it takes a manager with a strong character to take them on but, if they do, and they can harness the bad boy behaviour and turn it into a positive (as Sir Alex Ferguson has done to a certain extent with Wayne Rooney), it can be a masterstroke. Like a farmer taming a wild horse and getting it to pull the plough. Or any other such clumsy simile you care to mention.

Chesterfield manager John Sheridan is one such boss who seems to embrace the bad boy. At Oldham Athletic he had Lee Hughes on his books, a player who already had a “bit of a chequered past” shall we say. That relationship culminated in an infamous disagreement on a team night out but it also produced goals.

Sheridan also had Craig Davies last season, a player who hadn’t misbehaved but had been to quite a few clubs before banging in 23 goals in Chesterfield’s League Two winning season of 2010/11.

Now the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder has signed Leon Clarke (albeit on loan), a player that he had while he was at Oldham. Clarke arrived at the B2Net following a very public falling out with Swindon Town boss Paolo Di Canio that you can see for yourself on Youtube.

Now Clarke is hardly Carlos Tevez but he could easily have been regarded as tainted goods. Yet Sheridan had no problem signing him.

And it seems to be working out. Clarke has a point to prove. And so far he’s proving it on the pitch. 5 goals in 5 games in a higher division tells its own story.

Manager vs Player

So, what is the secret? Perhaps it’s not about the bad boy at all. Perhaps it’s the man management skills that the coach employs or the chemistry between the two characters.

Maybe a bad boy is the unfortunate result of bad management? Or is it just that the best players are so adored and molly coddled as young players that they think they can get away with anything? Who knows? That’s probably one for the psychology students.

What I do know is that in an interview Clarke recently said that Sheridan “says the right things, he shouts at the right time, and he’ll give you a pat on the back at the right time.”

It sounds fairly simple but it seems to have worked. Signing Clarke on loan has kick-started Chesterfield’s spluttering start to the season and reinforced Sheridan’s reputation as a manager.

So, if the signing of Clarke tells us anything it is that bad boys are worth taking a punt on.

And (apologies to most of the We Are Going Up audience for the following reference) you can thank Alexandra Burke for highlighting that particular phenomenon in recent years. “It’s a risk I take for the chemistry,” she sings.

I have a feeling that Messrs Sheridan and Clarke would agree.

Written by Will Strauss, We Are Going Up’s Chesterfield Blogger

Will tweets at @willstrauss

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