Mind Games and a Little Magician
‘Don’t worry about the other team – worry about yourselves,’ the coach clamoured from the touchline as we stood in amusement watching the San Diego Surf run militantly from touchline to touchline during their warm-up. To distract us even more they would all simultaneously kick their heels to their hands and slap their thighs creating a chorus comparable to Metallica with a conductor. I couldn’t focus – I was enamoured with their bloody warm-up.
The power of mind games can have an everlasting effect on your team and even moreso on the opposition. Al Pacino showed a video of the Gladiators to get his team gee'd up for a game in the movie ‘Any Given Sunday.’ Jose Mourinho created a siege mentality within his squads with outbursts suggestive of the entire world being against his team. Alex Ferguson constantly berating the fourth official for lack of added time led to the deployment of ‘Fergie Time’ constituting minutes in addition to actual injury time. Even the most miniscule tactics such as the warm up, as explained above, can throw the opposition off of their game.
Diego Maradona's warm up during his time with Napoli is the greatest football moment ever caught on camera. Forget his goal versus England in the 1986 World Cup - the warm up below is an expression of talent, arrogance and showmanship which is unparalleled in any football video ever seen. Imagine yourself warming up and looking across the half-way line seeing a player performing art on a football pitch with every aorta of his body. It's absolute magnificence. You'll notice the seats around him full - who ever sits in their seats that early? Well, they knew who was playing and the attraction of seeing the great man in the flesh far surpassed the Peroni they'd be drinking in the local Café.
Diego Maradona wasn't only one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game - he had a cheeky mindset which elevated him even farther above his competitors. Take his 'hand of God' goal against England for example - and don't even go there with the cheating accusation. We've all been on a football pitch and tried to coax our way to glory through something which didn't totally fixate upon the legalities of the game. Maradona got castigated because he was playing the English who are known to cry foul the loudest when injustice is served (and I'm of strong English heritage and will support the Three Lions into my last days). The only reason he had the audacity to attempt such a brazen moment was because he exuded aspirational arrogance. Who instilled this egotism upon him? - I think the manager, Carlos Bilardo had something to do with it. He controversially made Maradona the Captain of the Argentina team ahead of Daniele Passarella who had captained his country to World Cup glory eight years prior. Remember, Maradona was red carded in World Cup 1982 for a stud lunge into the thigh of an opponent and then endured two difficult years at Barcelona not to mention a bout of Hepatitis. Regardless, Bilardo showed faith in the magician which contributed to the creation of an ever-genius footballer.
In an era of footballers who are equipped with all of the tools to become physical football specimens, the margin of error is microscopic. The parity between the best football clubs has never been closer therefore the manager plays an imperative role in leveraging the power of ‘mind games’ to elevate his squad above the competition. Most clubs deploy similar techniques such as sports psychologists and physical supplements. It’s the words and actions of the boss that permeate a player’s mind which gives them the injection of adrenaline to uplift them to victory.
The job of a manager is multi-faceted. To choose the right players, deploy a suitable system and make effective substitutions is the football part. To hire a staff capable of covering all variables such as physical and mental preparation is the back-office element. Finally, to mentally invigorate a group of players ranging in age and background is most likely the most difficult aspect of a job filled with much grief and little joy.
It all makes you wonder why managers get paid less than the players whom they lead. Did Alexander the Great sleep in a lesser environment than his troops? Did Winston Churchill eat cheese and bread in the barracks? Did Napoleon Bonaparte eat and drink anything less than cheese and wine?
Football, it’s a funny old game.