12 Apr 2009

Mind games: It's all in the head

So-called 'mind games' have been receiving lots of press coverage in recent weeks, and Sir Alex Ferguson is the most famous for his ‘attacks’, but just how effective are they?

Despite deficiencies in spending power and squad depth, we’ve seen Liverpool become the main challengers to United’s dominance this season. As a rsult of this, Sir Alex has found it necessary to target Liverpool with subtle side-swiping and less than cunning remarks.

Unfortunately, in my eyes, Rafa has responded. I do believe that the mind games have an effect, but I think I’d rather Rafa not respond, and keep his dignity.

In January, Rafa made a swipe at Fergie that was misinterpreted by the media and then blown out of all proportion. Now while it had very little to do with our ensuing drop of form, the whole press bandwagon made a laughing stock out of the coincidence, and it was a coincidence.

Since then there has been constant banter between the two clubs, with both sides’ form twisting and turning. The ‘Rafa’s cracking up’ jibes have ceased since we ruined United at Old Trafford, but Rafa’s comments haven’t.

Logic would have you see that the comments in the media don’t really relate to form. Comments if anything, only affect the referee. In turn the referee can affect the game. However, with the bickering between the two clubs, it’s hard to look past the fact it’s become personal between Fergie and Rafa.

In an interview with the Telegraph on Sunday, Rafa said the following: "Mind games are for managers who are affected by them. But I don't understand him because he talks in a Scottish accent.".

This to me is a bit of a paradox.

While I agree with Rafa, mind games are indeed for managers affected by them, I don’t like the personal side to it, I wish Rafa would hold his dignity and say to the press “I won’t comment any more on other teams”.

I am a huge fan of Rafa, I hope he stays for 10 more years; I think he’s a dynasty builder, and one day will go down with Shankly as the man who re-ignited the flame at Liverpool.

I feel that although the psychology may have a miniscule effect, the integrity of the manager is paramount. Fergie has become a bit of a joke due to his constant outbursts, and I hate it that Rafa responds.

One argument though is that he has to respond. The power of the media is immense in football, not particularly to the player, but with the fans. When the fans start believing what they hear in the press, then it becomes dangerous.

Fan pressure in the stands does transmit to the pitch, and the last thing the players need is unrest from the crowd. The more experienced players can handle it, but when your trying to blood youth and less experienced players, the outcome can seriously damage morale.

Seeing Lucas Leiva get booed by our own fans this season was a complete low point for me, at times I lose a lot of faith in Liverpool fans, but that’s for another time, right now the concentration is on the affect of mind games.

I understand that Benitez feels he must respond though, if Ferguson says something then the comments will linger and the gutter press will run and run with it until it makes your head cave in.

A quick response puts the ball back in the opposite court. Commenting though puts pressure on both sets of players. The Liverpool players will feel pressure due to the war of words, and the same goes for the Manchester lot.

Imagine this:

You're 10 years old, finished playing in your U11 cup final and you trot off to your dad. As you get closer your face begins to drop. Uh oh - dad's embroiled in an argument with another dad about the behavior of his son towards you.

Embarrassed as you already are by being talked about by someone else, you’ve just remembered that you face the same team again next week in a crunch league game. That same kid will be up against you...

Although the argument was between the parents, both kids are the subject of the debate and will instantly feel the pressure. The result is that when the game comes around, nerves, expectation and the original challenge are all against a kid, who at the end of the day just wants to play football.

Now multiply that dilemma by the circumference of Mars and you get the pressure that’s piled on to players who play in a game watched by millions.

The primary focus, I feel, should be relaxation, players should be in the zone and not distracted. Then again, I’m just a deliriously frustrated fan and not a world class manager with complete access to unlimited resource on the power of psychology.


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