5 great footballers who defied their manager and were proven right
- The world's best footballers often have big egos, but when these 5 defied their bosses, they were proven right.
- Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have all refused to follow their manager's orders.
Some of the world’s best footballers are also renowned for their large egos, so it’s hardly a surprise that clashes between players and managers are commonplace.
Most of the time though, “player power” fails to win, and it's the managers who run the show. On a handful of occasions though, players have clashed with their manager and gotten away with it. And sometimes, their defiance has proved them to be in the right in the first place.
Here are 5 examples of players who defied their manager – and were proven right.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is widely recognised as one of the best footballers of all-time, but his detractors would definitely accuse him of egotism. Usually though, the Portuguese’s relationship with his manager has run smoothly, assuming they deploy him in the way he wishes. That wasn’t the case, however, in the 2016-17 season.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid were attempting to retain their Champions League title, and found themselves facing Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. The first leg went well for Los Blancos, who picked up a 1-2 win, with two priceless away goals. During the second leg at the Bernabeu, meanwhile, Real found themselves 0-1 down with less than half an hour to go.
With Bayern needing another goal, Real boss Zinedine Zidane decided to send some fresh legs on, and signalled for Ronaldo to be substituted. The Portuguese instead shook his head and wagged his finger at the Frenchman. Zidane surprisingly agreed with his star and instead sent Marco Asensio on for Karim Benzema, not Ronaldo.
Just over 10 minutes later, CR7 headed in an equaliser, only for Sergio Ramos’ own goal to take the tie to extra time. From there, Ronaldo took over the game, scoring a brace to complete his hat-trick. Incredibly, Real also scored a 4th goal to cement the tie. The scorer? None other than Asensio.
In this case, Ronaldo’s defiance of Zidane undoubtedly paid off – and Los Blancos indeed went onto retain their crown.
#2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been known to clash with his manager from time to time during his career. He most notably had a major fall-out with Pep Guardiola during his time at Barcelona. However, his greatest act of defiance came during his period with AC Milan in the 2010-11 campaign.
Against Fiorentina in a Serie A game at the San Siro, the striker pulled off a moment of genius. A cross found its way to him in the box, and he juggled the ball before firing a bicycle kick into the net. It was only then that disaster struck.
Ibrahimovic evidently landed badly on his right arm, and when he punched the air in celebration, it was clear that he was hurt. Milan boss Max Allegri then attempted to substitute him, but unsurprisingly, Zlatan refused outright.
Allegri gave into his star striker, and somehow, Ibrahimovic was able to gut out the rest of the match. And as if to prove he was definitely right, 3 days later, the Swede scored Milan’s opening goal during a Champions League win over Auxerre.
Unsurprisingly, nothing more was said about Ibrahimovic’s apparent injury!
#3 Paul Pogba
When Manchester United broke the world transfer fee record to sign Paul Pogba for £89m, they knew they were signing a player with a large profile. That feeling came home to roost when the Frenchman clashed with boss Jose Mourinho on numerous occasions.
The duo had an up-and-down relationship throughout their time together at Old Trafford. In the initial stages of their relationship, things were positive. However, fractures began to emerge when Pogba flew to Miami to recover from a hamstring injury, rather than stay in Manchester.
By the start of 2018, it was clear that the two weren’t getting on. Mourinho hauled Pogba off early during defeats at Spurs and Newcastle, and dropped him for a game against Huddersfield. Things didn’t get better even when the Portuguese boss named the Frenchman as captain.
After a win over Leicester, Pogba stated that he’d give his best “for those that trust him”. From there, things continued to go downhill, culminating in Mourinho reportedly labelling the player a “virus” after a particularly poor showing.
However, just weeks later, Mourinho was fired by United’s power-brokers after a run of poor results. Pogba’s reaction? A report claimed that coach Michael Carrick had to step in to prevent him from celebrating at United’s training ground.
On this occasion at least, there’s no disputing that Pogba’s defiance made him come out on top of this spat.
Louis van Gaal is renowned as one of the best managers of his generation. However, over the years, plenty of high profile players have fallen out with the Dutchman. For the likes of Franck Ribery and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Van Gaal’s disciplinarian ways were just too much to handle.
The most infamous story of a player defying Van Gaal involves Brazilian star Rivaldo. The two linked up at Barcelona in the 1997-98 season, and at first, success flowed for them. Rivaldo finished as Barca’s top scorer in his debut campaign, and again in 1998-99, and both seasons saw La Blaugrana win LaLiga.
However, 1999-00 saw the relationship between the two begin to splinter. Essentially, Van Gaal preferred to use Rivaldo as a left-sided midfielder, while the Brazilian saw himself more as a central attacker. As a result, on occasion, the Dutch boss benched his star, who had won the Ballon d’Or in 1999.
The Barcelona fans weren’t impressed with Van Gaal’s decision, and it ended up backfiring. Rivaldo scored just 12 goals in the league – half of the 24 he’d scored in the previous season, and Barca finished in second place.
That was enough for Van Gaal to be fired from his job at the Nou Camp – something he later blamed Rivaldo for, but the Brazilian was largely proven right. While Barca didn’t win LaLiga in 2000-01, Rivaldo was absolutely fantastic.
He scored 36 goals – often from his preferred central position – and secured Champions League qualification for his team on the final day of the season.
#5 Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is often seen as the antithesis of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi fans would tell you that the Argentine is more humble than the Portuguese and less driven by individual glory. However, even Messi has chosen to defy his manager in the past.
Like Ronaldo, the issue stemmed from his boss’s attempt to substitute him. In this instance, Barcelona boss Luis Enrique’s decision seemed logical enough. During the 2014-15 campaign, La Blaugrana were faced with a straightforward league match against Eibar at the Nou Camp.
With Barca leading the match 3-0 after 75 minutes, Enrique decided to bring Messi off. The idea was clearly to give him a rest prior to the team’s Champions League match with Ajax 3 days later. However, Messi had other ideas. He refused to come off, giving Enrique a thumbs up gesture to show he was happy to continue.
The boss looked frustrated, but then decided to take Neymar off instead. After the game, he commented on the incident, stating that he trusted what Messi told him. In the end, the Argentine was proven correct.
Barca comfortably defeated Ajax 3-1, with Messi creating a goal for Neymar and then scoring himself midway through the first half. Later in the game, Enrique decided to bring the Argentine off in another attempt to rest him. And with his point proven, Messi acquiesced and was replaced by Munir El Haddadi.