First off was the fact that Arsene Wenger dared to drop Alexis Sanchez for the Liverpool tie, which by the reaction of the media was closely akin to news of Donald Trump resigning the Presidency and embracing Islam.
The second was the change in fortune and performances of Leicester City, who having disposed of Claudio Ranieri, suddenly became a team again and started winning matches. How dare they? The furious outcry of the chattering classes is still to die down and centres around the attitude of the players who must have conspired to get the manager sacked.
It always surprises me just how little gossip leaks out of dressing rooms, but lets say that was the case – the players had lost faith in Ranieri and were not performing to the best of their ability. It’s not as if it’s the first time it has happened, is it? José was sacked from Chelsea the season after winning the title and for sure the players weren’t responding to him – just look at Hazard this season and last.
Aside from the Di Canio episode, which we’re led to believe was a genuine player mutiny, the Sunderland teams of Keane, Bruce and Poyet all seemed to me to reach a stage where they weren’t playing for the manager any more. You could argue in fact that any time a manager is sacked that seems to be the case – so why are Leicester players being so vilified?
Obviously the comparison of how they played last season was still so fresh in the mind that performances this year were startlingly easy to criticise. Also Ranieri was well liked in football circles, he was seen as a ‘good man’ and many critics were quick to come to his defence as things started going wrong for the team. But was he a good manager? He was sacked from his last few jobs and at the time wasn’t seen as an inspirational choice as a replacement for Pearson.
He inherited a team built by Pearson and Steve Walsh who had just pulled off a miraculous escape from relegation. They came into the new season with the same momentum and I think Ranieri just got lucky. He was in the right place at the right time and I think things just went unbelievably well for them. Walsh’s signings of Vardy, Mahrez and Kanté were the backbone of the team and when Kanté left and the others started under-performing, my guess is that Ranieri didn’t have the bond with the players to turn things round. There wasn’t the respect between manager and players to make a difference, and crucially Ranieri didn’t have any of his own players in the dressing room.
Any manager starting at a new club will need to assess pretty quickly the mood of the players. If it’s stand-offish or downright unfriendly then he’ll need to draft in people who’ll fight his corner or at least guard his back. John McGovern played for Brian Clough in his first managerial position at Hartlepool; Clough then made him his first signing at Derby, Leeds and Forest.
But even Clough, with his overbearing personality, couldn’t fight against the player power at Leeds where the established Revie team simply refused to give him a chance and he was dismissed after just 44 days.
It’s never easy following an icon or a popular, successful manager into a club. Clough was unlucky to follow Revie. Moyes came up against a similar situation at Manchester United, where it was rumoured the players never accepted or respected him, and drafting in Fellaini didn’t have the desired effect. It’s much easier coming in after a failing or unpopular incumbent - perhaps Conte had been a welcome relief at Chelsea after the bad feeling between Mourinho and the players?
But once he feels reasonably confident that he’s won most or some of his new team over, the manager has to deliver, and I think this is where Ranieri fell down. I don’t think he was a good enough manager to manage when things were going wrong, nor to win over the doubters.
Football management looks like a tough job. You have to wear many hats, and one of the most - if not the most - important is people management. You have to inspire the players, when things get tough they have to know that you’ll sort it out. And that’s where Alexis Sanchez comes back in.
There’s no doubting Sanchez’s talent and importance to the Arsenal team but things are not going as well as expected. True, they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and we all expected that, and they had their usual mid-season dip in the Premier League which we all knew they would, but there’s buckets of other stuff that Sanchez isn’t happy about, and when he looks across at Wenger on the touchline, does he see someone who’s going to get to the bottom of the issues and or does he see someone who’s about as enthusiastic as a new girlfriend's Dad?
The result? Handbags in the dressing room, and a likely departure in the summer. Compare that to the relationship of Zlatan and José at Manchester United. We know they love each other - Zlatan played for José at Inter and loves his determination to win. José thinks Zlatan is the best striker in the world. In Saturday’s game the Bournemouth, defender Tyrone Mings stood on Zlatans’ head. Zlatan didn’t make a big thing of it at the time but at the first opportunity planted his elbow into Mings' face, earning himself a three match ban at a crucial time of the season.
Mourinho’s response? He backed him to the hilt – why? Because he knows that Zlatan rules the dressing room. It took someone with an ego the size of a planet to sideline Rooney and the Ferguson old guard and establish the new era of Mourinho in the player's domain. With Zlatan on his side, José’s succeeding where both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal failed.