LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Manager Alex McLeish of Aston Villa (L) looks on as Charles N’Zogbia of Aston Villa (C) is substituted and replaced with Marc Albrighton of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Aston Villa at Craven Cottage on August 13, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
The big story in Aston Villa-land this past week has been the rumored feud between winger Charles N’Zogbia and manager Alex McLeish. This story has been brewing for the majority of the season, but for whatever reason it didn’t quite take off in a big way until N’Zogbia publicly denied that it exists. At the heart of the current flare-up was an interview with L’Equipe (which, for the record, I still have not seen in the original French, much less translated by something more reliable than Google Translate) in which N’Zogbia talked about an earlier spat with McLeish and the difficulty he’s had in adjusting to the Villa boss’ tactics. He then insisted he’d been misquoted (despite re-tweeting fan praise for his comments in the interview just hours prior) and now, according to McLeish, the whole thing was a misunderstanding that’s now been cleared up.
N’Zogbia’s ire (this time, at least) seems to mostly stem from comments McLeish made that amounted to “you should worry about being good at football before blowing all of your money on fast cars.” That’s a pretty heavy paraphrase, obviously, as I wasn’t in the locker room at the time; I’d like to think he mentioned something about loose women and the Devil’s drink somewhere in there as well. N’Zogbia took it to be directed at him in particular. The gaffer disagrees:
"I was supposed to have said something about Charles spending money on fast cars. I've no reason to single Charles out for that and I told him that. I was talking about players in general. Charles realises that now. It was after the Bolton game when I was really pleased with the performance and I was doing a rallying cry to all the players to be winners.”
In a somewhat bitter, backhanded but nonetheless endearing in a “Grampa bought an iPad!” kind of way, McLeish went on to add the following:
“I'm like Charles, definitely. If I had the money in my day that these guys are earning, I'd have had fast cars because I love fast cars."
As is well documented, I’m a big fan of Charles N’Zogbia as a player. My opinion of McLeish’s managerial ability is…somewhat less positive. But it would be beyond disingenuous to ignore the fact that N’Zogbia has had fallings-out with managers in the past; he was displeased at finding himself relegated to second choice in favor of Damien Duff during Glenn Roeder’s time in charge of Newcastle, and a very public tiff with Joe Kinnear led to N’Zogbia being sold to Wigan the very next day. By all accounts N’Zogbia got along quite well with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, but it’s important to note that he was also the focal point of Wigan’s attack and in many ways the club’s tactical approach revolved around his abilities.
That’s not going to be the case at most clubs, and it certainly isn’t the case at Aston Villa. Whether his criticisms are valid or not is somewhat beside the point; there are right ways to handle these things and wrong ways to handle these things, and though I’m not privy to all of the details it certainly appears as though N’Zogbia has chosen an approach that’s more in line with the latter. That doesn’t exempt McLeish from criticism; he’s notoriously cantankerous and his responsibility dodging is something myself and other writers here have very openly complained about in the past. He could probably be handling this better publicly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s being a bit more of a prick behind closed doors.
But ultimately, this is a pattern with N’Zogbia. At a certain point, he has three choices; up his game to the point that clubs are willing to put up with this kind of stuff, behave in a more professional and mature manner, or become yet another in a long list of footballers whose attitude prevented their careers from being all that they could have been. I love Charles N’Zogbia’s game, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that I think he’s a bad person/beyond help. Professional footballers are notorious for their warped emotional development, and it’s understandable in most every way. But it’s time for N’Zogbia to get past it. He can be everything this club needs, but it’s never going to happen if he can’t stop pissing off the manager.