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“Man Up” Management - Is this correct in today’s game?

I can’t believe after everything regarding yesterday’s game. This is what’s being focused on.

Cambridge United v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

It’s fair to say that Ian Evatt’s BBC Radio Manchester interview has received a very mixed bag of responses. Some believe that Evatt’s “man up” comment is an outdated blanket response that has no place in today’s times and that it cruelly stigmatises males to be the stereotypical macho man. Take what gets thrown at you on the chin and unhealthily reign in your emotions. The worst part of it all being that it was directed at a 20 year old taking his first major steps into the professional game. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have people who feel that it was a fairly innocuous remark that has been misconstrued in the worst aspect. That most outrage is based of a faux desire to look progressive or a bandwagon reaction to save face. Some feel that Crellin might need this kind of heavy-handed public approach if he is to kick on and make a success of his loan spell here.

Disclaimer: I do lean towards the latter response. I mince no words when it comes to how I feel, especially on Twitter much to my detriment sometimes. It’s why I’ve never really had a problem with Evatt’s interviews as even if I don’t agree with some of his views on how games have gone, I do always believe that he’s being honest in his words which I really appreciate. To be honest, I’m probably not the best suited to handle this kind of topic but I will certainly try my best to remove any biases I can to keep this article fair.

Now let’s start with the a big point of contention. With the ever increasing focus on mental health issues, it’s completely understandable this interview like this doesn’t wash with some people. I personally think that is absolutely a good thing that those kind of barriers are being broken and more accepted in the world. In any kind of sport, never mind the giant influence of football, it has been an increasingly hotbed issue for years now with more and more athletes opening up about their struggles both in daily life and with how they’ve been treated in certain places. Sportsmen and women should feel like they have the freedom to be honest about their struggles without fear of repercussion or slander. It’s certainly no joke as proven with the stories of Billy Kee, Clark Carlisle and a noteworthy name for Bolton fans, Marvin Sordell.

Speaking of Marvin, he too has thrown his hat in the ring commenting how he’s baffled by Evatt’s comments. “If he thinks his performances have been shaky so far, what does he expect will happen now?” Marvin was a young player with seemingly vast potential when he joined Bolton but the club did not at all give him the support basis he needed to transition from that youth product to a first team regular in a completely new environment. As it was his first time being away from home and his move happened quite quickly, I completely sympathise with Marvin about how this kind of sudden change affected him so negatively. Bolton was just not a good place for someone like him at that point in his career/life. While it’s tough to hear sometimes as a fan how poor your club when stories like his come out, they’re necessary so we can avoid repeating history.

His former teammate sees things differently however. Craig Davies commented that if you can’t handle being called out sometimes, then football is not the sport for you. Princy seems to be as tough off the field as he was on it. It’s really interesting to hear both sides of the fence as sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind in some players eyes. As he rightly pointed out, you’re likely to hear at lot worse throughout your career and you have to be ready to handle that. Football fans are like that. I myself called Billy Crellin “brain-dead” when he made his mistake on Saturday. We say a lot of harsh things in the heat of game and sometimes after it when we’re still on a high/low after a result. It’s human nature as a football fan.

There’s a big difference here in mentality and experience between these two individuals though. Mental health is a case by case basis and while both sides are completely valid in their responses, neither are totally applicable in how to approach players as a manager when they’re under-performing. Crellin is of similar age to Sordell and coming into his first big test as a footballer but off the field, is he more a Craig Davies type? I can’t say for certain. However, Ian Evatt seems to think he is that kind of character.

One important aspect to note is that Crellin has a big support system under his belt, with former Fleetwood teammate, turned GK coach, Matt Gilks as his mentor. Couple that fact with Gilks being a former teammate of Evatt and knowing how each other work, I don’t think either man would’ve brought in Crellin as Bolton’s No.1 if they didn’t think he could hack learning and playing under them. As clearly stated in his initial interview and clarified in the BEN, Evatt spoke privately with Crellin before all this came about. This is the argument those defending the comments primarily point to about this whole thing being blown out of proportion. If Evatt had gone into it without that, then we’d definitely be looking at a different story.

In some people’s eyes though that brings up two more points of contention. The first one is why Evatt felt it was necessary to go public when it could easily have been kept behind-the-scenes. Many extremely successful managers have pointed out how their style usually involved supporting the players publicly while giving their talking to privately and keeping them out of the negative spotlight as much as they can. It’s certainly uncommon for a manager to be so open about how they feel in the press regarding specific people. Again, this just wins over a good section of fans who appreciate a manager who is willing to bite the bullet and not be shy about what he feels in a time when many managers are vague and give fairly bland cookie-cutter interviews.

The second point though is absolutely the most contentious is his use of the phrase “man up”. In the modern day when the traditional gender roles are being broken and the lines of behaviour being labelled as feminine and masculine blur more and more, this phrasing really doesn’t wash with that everchanging scenario. Even if Evatt meant it to mean that Crellin can’t afford to make these kind of schoolboy errors if he wants to make it at the professional level, it’s considered by many people to be an outdated idiom that no matter the intended use, always has negative connotations. That’s possibly a perception that’s too black-and-white but if there is a more clearer and cleaner way to phrase it, why didn’t Evatt just use it? Maybe he was still heated from the result or he just didn’t think much of it but the intention was clearly not malicious in nature. He called Crellin a fantastic keeper before those words came out but the damage was done. It’s a real shame that some context gets lost when you isolate a certain phrase but that’s just how things go sometimes.

Really, whatever side you lean to on this, the only real way we’ll be able to tell if this sort of approach was acceptable is when we next see Crellin play on Tuesday. If his confidence has been knocked by this public call out, we’ll be able to tell by his performance. So far in his Bolton career, outside of his mistakes, Crellin has proved himself a very forward thinking keeper. Whenever he gathers the ball, he immediately looks to throw the ball out for a counter-attack. He’s proven himself unafraid of coming out his area to jockey players who’ve slipped past our defence and he’s been vocal. If we saw less of these actions on Tuesday then we can probably more concretely call that Evatt has damaged Crellin’s confidence in himself. However, if Crellin plays smarter, continues to try and command his area and attempt to be stronger and smarter in his goalkeeping, especially in the air where his weakness was against Cambridge, then we can say that the public bollocking was worth it.

No fan can deny that Crellin has made some costly mistakes so far in his time here. You’d have to be outright ignorant to not see that. He does absolutely have to do better and who’s to say Evatt hasn’t tried the arm around the shoulder approach after his mistakes against Barrow, Newport and Colchester. Maybe Evatt had to try something different. Chris Wilder tried something similar with Dean Henderson and while he used different phrasing, he got the results he wanted. There is precedent for this kind of approach working. Time will tell but hopefully, we’ll be talking way more about the football and another positive performance rather than an individuals errors.