It's morning on New Year's Day and a Premier League club player liaison officer's phone rings. A first-team player has a problem and it needs fixing.
When something happens, a footballer doesn't call the manager, the owner, the captain or the physio, they call the player liaison officer. "It was one of our foreign lads, so you always have to factor in cultural differences or language issues if they have a problem," the player liaison officer tells ESPN.
"On this occasion, he had an issue with his car, so I drove to his house. It turned out that he couldn't get the windscreen wipers to work. It took me about 10 seconds to sort it out, but that's the job really. You're the guy who has to take care of those things, sometimes the silly things, that can get in the way of a player being fully focused on the job of playing football.
"I've even been asked to take a player's dog for a walk by one manager, but if it helps the player to perform, then I'm doing my job."
Player liaison officer is a job description that is open to interpretation. What exactly does it mean? You probably wouldn't ever recognise the player liaison officer within any team, but it's a role that is essential at all top clubs in terms of keeping the wheels turning in the dressing room. It's arguably one of the most important positions at any football club, yet those in the role slip under the radar because, quite simply, that is how it has to be.
"We are everything from counsellors to personal concierges," the player liaison officer, who has occupied the role for over a decade, tells ESPN. "My job is to stop problems reaching the manager's door, but trust is everything and there is an understanding from the manager and the players that I am there to help them in whatever way they need me to do so, as long as it doesn't reflect badly on the good name of the club."
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In these unprecedented times, as players are kept apart from teammates and denied the sanctuary of the dressing room by social distancing measures imposed during the coronavirus crisis, the job of a player liaison officer has become even more crucial.
Every Premier League player has been given a training and nutrition plan by his club to ensure they maintain optimum fitness while working from home during the lockdown. That's a basic step taken by every team, but every player's situation is different. Some live with their families in houses big enough to incorporate pools and personal gyms, or boast gardens that could stage a mini-marathon, while others live alone in city centre apartments. Some are new to the country and struggle with the language too, so for a player liaison officer, the job is increasingly important at a time when clubs are unable to monitor their players on a daily basis at the training ground.
"You can have all the support apps that you want, but nothing is more important and instructive than talking to your player," the player liaison officer says. "You have to know each of them individually. It is such a personal thing.
"Every day during the lockdown, I will be in touch, either through WhatsApp or over the phone. I make seven or eight calls a day. Some players, you only need to speak to them directly once a week -- a daily text message is enough for them. Others are different, but I can tell from a two-minute conversation whether a player is OK or not.
"Yet I am not an expert. If mental health is an issue, I'll make sure the player gets specialist help. Players will open up to a player liaison officer more than their manager or teammates, so I have to respect that and make sure any issues are dealt with quickly and professionally."
Earning the trust of a player is crucial and the relationship between a player liaison officer and the dressing room can sometimes lead to tension with the manager.
"I'm fortunate in that I'm able to go into the dressing room and be treated by the players as one of them, rather than as an outsider," the player liaison officer says. "Some of bigger clubs have what they call 'player care teams,' but they work out of an office and don't have dressing room access, so straightaway they lose the ability to get to know the players in their own environment. Some managers prefer it that way and I have worked for managers who want the balance of my job to be weighted more towards their needs than those of the players.
"There have been times when I have clashed with a manager because I have been maybe too supportive of a player, but a player has to know that I will have his back. I have also clashed with players, especially if they've let me down by doing something that reflects badly on the squad. Again, the ability to be honest and direct with players is also a crucial element of the job. If I have to speak to the manager about a player, that players knows that I will speak to him before I knock on the manager's door."
Ultimately, the strength of a dressing room is defined by the players and characters within it, and a player liaison officer can only work with a group that is willing to accept him.
"If you have nine good lads in a team, you can accommodate a couple of difficult ones," he adds. "If the split is 8/3, you have a problem. The ideal is 10/1, but you're very lucky to get that.
"I worked for a team that was relegated a few years ago and we lost a guy who I regarded as the strongest captain I ever worked with. All of a sudden, the moral fibre of the dressing room was lost and things became so difficult that I didn't want to be around footballers anymore. But on another occasion, one player made sure the players paid my wages when the club was going through a bad time financially. You end up seeing the full spectrum of society in a dressing room."