Big ego cru­cial to great­ness

Lesotho Times - - Sport - Alec Fenn

MANCH­ESTER — One evening in the mid1990s, Manch­ester United play­ers and staff at­tended a Bat­man film pre­miere. It was a black-tie event.

United star Eric Can­tona had other ideas and ar­rived wear­ing an all-white suit fin­ished off with bright red train­ers. His team-mates laughed, while man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son turned a blind eye.

Can­tona was a tal­ent with an abun­dance of self-con­fi­dence, but had been a de­struc­tive force in­side the dress­ing rooms of his pre­vi­ous clubs in France. He had been known as much for punch-ups with team­mates at Aux­erre and Mont­pel­lier as his abil­ity with a ball at his feet.

He was per­ceived as dam­aged goods in France, but in Eng­land he helped Leeds United win the league and af­ter his ar­rival at Old Traf­ford in the au­tumn of 1992, he was af­forded the free­dom to ex­press his ec­cen­tric­i­ties be­cause of the ex­am­ple he set on the train­ing ground.

Can­tona was one of the first play­ers un­der Fer­gu­son to spend hours af­ter a ses­sion prac­tis­ing the ba­sics on his own. He was hum­ble enough to ac­knowl­edge his flaws and, as cap­tain, help the younger play­ers rid them­selves of theirs.

But he al­ways main­tained a swag­ger that saw him hold his nerve un­der pres­sure to pro­duce mo­ments of match-win­ning bril­liance when his team needed it most, such as the win­ning goal in the 1996 FA Cup fi­nal against Liver­pool.

His is a story that prompts an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. While phys­i­cal gifts and world-class skill are key to the suc­cess of sport’s finest ath­letes, is a big ego - de­fined in this case as a supreme level of self-con­fi­dence - the se­cret in­gre­di­ent that el­e­vates good to great?

‘Messi and Ron­aldo have egos’ Mike Forde is a firm be­liever in the power of ego. He spent eight years as per­for­mance di­rec­tor at Bolton Wan­der­ers be­tween 1999 and 2007 and a fur­ther six as di­rec­tor of football oper­a­tions for Chelsea.

His jobs in­volved trav­el­ling the world li­ais­ing with sports teams - from the All Blacks to NFL and NBA fran­chises. His quest was to iden­tify in­no­va­tions in ar­eas such as psy­chol­ogy, IT, scout­ing and peo­ple man­age­ment.

Forde told BBC Sport: “If you’re Di­dier Drogba tak­ing a penalty in the 2012 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal, with 160 mil­lion peo­ple watch­ing around the world and 60,000 stood in the sta­dium, you need a high level of con­fi­dence and self-belief to per­form. That is what we char­ac­terise as ego.”

Sports psy­chol­o­gist Bill Beswick, who has worked for Manch­ester United and Eng­land, adds: “Ego is very pow­er­ful and can be the driv­ing force be­hind per­for­mance. Ex-manch­ester United midfielder Roy Keane had in­tense self-belief. He max­imised his ego to make ake the ab­so­lute best of him­self.”

But how do we know the great­est ath­letes pos­sess os­sess this trait? We’ve seen ego man­i­fest it­self self in Can­tona’s up­turned col­lar, while Thierry ry Henry would of­ten raise his fin­ger to his lips ps when he scored.

Both were the­atri­cal dis­plays of in­ner con­fi­dence, dence, but in oth­ers the same lev­els of ego are e masked.

Con­fi­dence coach Martin Perry — whose clients ients in­clude Ar­se­nal midfielder Aaron Ram­sey amsey and golfer Colin Mont­gomerie — cites tes the dif­fer­ence be­tween Barcelona for­ward ard Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cris­tiano ano Ron­aldo.

“Ron­aldo is very out­wardly con­fi­dent, where­ash M Messi i comes across as quiet it andd hum­ble, but both have egos. We know that be­cause of the in­di­vid­ual man­ner in which they play,” he says. “They don’t see risks; they have a bul­let­proof cer­tainty they’ll pro­duce and when an ath­lete has that supreme level of con­fi­dence, magic can hap­pen.”

Fine line be­tween good and great West Brom goal­keeper Ben Foster of­ten tells a story to young­sters at the club about one of his first train­ing ses­sions af­ter he joined Manch­ester United in 2005 that il­lus­trates how ego can dic­tate suc­cess or fail­ure.

Foster moved to Old Traf­ford from Stoke at 21 and was tipped to be­come a fu­ture Eng­land num­ber one.

But as he looked around the dress­ing room and saw the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Sc­holes and Wayne Rooney ty­ing up their laces, he was over­come by a lack of self-belief and thought the club might have made a mis­take in sign­ing him.

Foster left United five years later hav­ing failed to make his mark and has since used a sports psy­chol­o­gist to learn tech­niques to erase self-doubt.

It’s a story that res­onates with Perry: “Or­di­nary lev­els of con­fi­dence don’t al­low you to do ex­tra­or­di­nary things; great­ness can’t be achieved with­out it.

“Most mag­i­cal mo­ments in sport come from a place of supreme self-con­fi­dence - these are the mo­ments which last for­ever and cre­ate legacy and leg­end.” When egos go wrong Ego must be har­nessed cor­rectly to en­sure an ath­lete steers clear of con­tro­versy and con­tin­ues to de­velop.

“We of­ten find in team sports that an ath­lete doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the af­fect he is hav­ing on the rest of his team by act­ing in a cer­tain way, which can cause ar­gu­ments,” adds Beswick. “Un­der pres­sure, ath­letes can change from ‘we’ to ‘me’. That hap­pens a lot.”

Only four Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als have scored more Test runs than Kevin Pi­etersen, but he may never get the chance to write the fi­nal chap­ter of his story now he is in the in­ter­na­tional wilder­ness fol­low­ing dis­putes with mem­bers of Eng­land’s cricket team.

Prince Naseem Hamed was the world’s best feath­er­weight boxer be­tween 1997 and 2000. But one won­ders how much more he could have achieved had he not be­come lost in the fog of his own hype and cut corners in train­ing, re­sult­ing in the only de­feat of his ca­reer to Marco An­to­nio Barrera in 2001 and sub­se­quent re­tire­ment, aged just 28, in 2002.

Sport psy­chol­o­gist Steven Sylvester, who has worked with Eng­land crick­eter Moeen Ali, two world cham­pion snooker play­ers and a ma­jor-win­ning golfer, among nu­mer­ous other ath­letes, cites the prob­lems caused when a sports­man or sportswoman adopts a self­ish ap­proach.

“That mind­set is a catas­tro­phe for me,” said Sylvester. “We want ath­letes to make the right de­ci­sions on the pitch un­der pres­sure and think how they might ben­e­fit their team-mates rather than just them­selves.” ‘Don’t dis­pose of big egos’ As the ex­am­ple of Can­tona shows, life ex­pe­ri­ence can ma­nip­u­late ego over time and pro­vide the cat­a­lyst to fuel ge­nius rather than con­flict.

Forde adds: “I’ve seen play­ers who were very ego­tis­ti­cal or ar­ro­gant and then they’d get mar­ried or have a baby and you’d see a change in their per­son­al­ity.

“You have to look at an in­di­vid­ual some­times and say ‘we’re go­ing to sign this guy for three years, we know there’s a cer­tain level of risk, but he’s reach­ing a point in his life where the penny might drop. So are we pre­pared to take that risk or not?’”

It’s a dilemma Liver­pool boss Bren­dan Rodgers faced be­fore opt­ing to sign Mario Balotelli from AC Mi­lan last Au­gust fol­low­ing his well-doc­u­mented prob­lems, although he is still wait­ing for his in­vest­ment to pay div­i­dends.

At Bolton and Chelsea, Forde helped to de­velop an ethos that saw both clubs pur­sue what he calls “big ego tal­ent”.

The likes of Juan Mata and Eden Haz­ard ar­rived at Stam­ford Bridge dur­ing his ten­ure, while Nige­ria leg­end Jay-jay Okocha, Spain’s fourth high­est-ever goalscorer Fer­nando Hi­erro and France World Cup win­ner Youri Djorka­eff were signed by the Trot­ters.

His pol­icy at Bolton was one that went against con­ven­tional wis­dom. Okocha, Hi­erro and Djorka­eff were all in their thir­ties and past their phys­i­cal peak, with no sell-on value, but cru­cially they all had one thing in com­mon.

“The key isn’t to dis­pose of big egos. The real ques­tion is: is that ego man­age­able? Is it coach­able? Are they hum­ble enough to con­tinue to learn?” ex­plained Forde.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing din­ner with Fer­nando Hi­erro. He was 35 at the time, had played 90 times for Spain and won the Cham­pi­ons League twice. I asked him ‘what’s been the high­light of your ca­reer?’ He put his knife and fork down and looked at me and said ‘I haven’t had it yet’.”

The for­mula for great­ness When tal­ent and ego are in per­fect sym­me­try, a player can make the leap from good to great.

Forde uses a for­mula - (ego + coach­a­bil­ity) x learn­ing cul­ture - with high-per­form­ing teams and in­di­vid­u­als to help them max­imise their tal­ent.

“The equa­tion shows that ego is the foun­da­tion of great­ness but only if it is still open to be­ing coached and crit­i­cised and there’s a struc­ture in place to help them grow,” he said.

It is an equa­tion that ex­plains the suc­cess and longevity of some top sports stars.

“I look at Frank Lam­pard, that’s why he’s play­ing at the age of 37, then you go into North Amer­ica, a Lebron James of the NBA or a Tom Brady at the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots or a Derek Jeter at the New York Yan­kees.

“The ego is in place to give them the con­fi­dence to per­form on the big­gest stage and then there’s coach­a­bil­ity and this in­trin­sic DNA that gives them the de­sire to be the best ver­sion of them­selves. “If that’s in place, great­ness can ap­pear.” — BBC

eric can­tona

cris­tiano ron­aldo Ben Foster made 12 first-team ap­pear­ances in five years at Old Traf­ford but has gone on to have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, first with Birm­ing­ham City and then at his cur­rent club West Bromwich Al­bion.

Mario Balotelli

lionel Messi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.