Se­cret foot­baller

Kick Off - - Contents -

How to deal with early sea­son blues

All the pre-sea­son train­ing, all the fit­ness drills, team meet­ings, tri­al­ists, trans­fer spec­u­la­tion, con­di­tion­ing ses­sions, tac­ti­cal board analysis – all of them lumped to­gether in six or seven weeks to pre­pare us for our sea­son. Now we are ready for ac­tion. We can’t wait to test our­selves against teams in our league. Pre-sea­son friendlies are good for match con­di­tion­ing and some tac­ti­cal work, but there is noth­ing quite like a com­pet­i­tive league match against teams that are chal­leng­ing you for hon­ours.

But it doesn’t start well. You get ham­mered in your first match, not so much on the score­board, but phys­i­cally and tac­ti­cally smashed by a bet­ter-pre­pared op­po­nent. As much as you try and down­play it, the signs are all there al­ready that it is go­ing to be a long, hard sea­son. Your sup­port­ers are on your back al­ready. One game, one loss and they have given up on you! The new sign­ings haven’t got off to a good start ei­ther and some of them have come for good money. Big sign­ings al­ways have pres­sure be­cause they are ex­pected to lift the team from the start, but this is not a good way to get the sea­son un­der­way.

Some of the me­dia start to take aim, en­joy­ing the op­por­tu­nity to put a high-pro­file team un­der the spot­light and at­tract more likes and fol­lows on their so­cial me­dia pages. Sud­denly ev­ery­one is an ex­pert too. TV an­a­lysts all give their opin­ions on what we should have done, and what we didn’t do, and who should play and what for­ma­tion we should use. If they are all so clever, why are they not coach­ing a team? Some of the pres­sure starts to af­fect a few of the play­ers and there are some hard tack­les in train­ing the next week. A cou­ple of play­ers who didn’t play the first game are try­ing to im­press the coach at train­ing and I’m on the end of a bruis­ing late tackle from a young de­fender. I get up from the chal­lenge and grab his jersey be­fore giv­ing him a shove. A few play­ers come to his res­cue and there are some words said among the group. Ev­ery­one is feel­ing the ten­sion. The coach asks a few of us to stay af­ter the ses­sion and we have a quick chat about the in­ci­dent. We all shake hands and move on, agree­ing with the coach that we will put the team first, but there are still one or two play­ers who are there for them­selves. As an ex­pe­ri­enced player I know I must play a role in sort­ing their heads out and get­ting them to play for the team first, but be­cause of the pres­sure we are un­der af­ter our first de­feat I must also con­cen­trate on my own game.

The coach looks down the

whole week. He’s taken the de­feat and the me­dia crit­i­cism per­son­ally. But we are re­minded that the beau­ti­ful thing about soc­cer is that you get an­other chance to prove ev­ery­one wrong very quickly. We are pre­par­ing for our next match and when the game fi­nally ar­rives, we go out and put on a dis­play that will give the rest of the league some con­cern. Ev­ery­one is buzzing again, there is a spring in our step and the me­dia have quickly moved on to an­other vic­tim. Even the two play­ers who have been snip­ing be­hind the backs of the other play­ers are back in the fam­ily. There are smiles on the faces at train­ing and the coach even joins in for a kick around.

This is the

re­al­ity of pro­fes­sional soc­cer. You live and die by your re­sults – no mat­ter how much prepa­ra­tion you put in, no mat­ter how or­gan­ised, dis­ci­plined or pas­sion­ate you are as play­ers or as a team, if the ball doesn’t bounce for you or lady luck for­gets about you, you end up in a bad sit­u­a­tion that you have to work re­ally hard to get out of. The start of the sea­son is not a true re­flec­tion of how things will fin­ish be­cause there are so many things that can go wrong dur­ing the cam­paign. Some teams start off like a house on fire and fly to the top of the ta­ble early on, but a few in­juries or sus­pen­sions af­ter a cou­ple of months and it all collapses around them and they can’t stop the down­ward spi­ral. Trust me, I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. Be pa­tient with your team and take some pres­sure off them, they are try­ing their best. If they have pre­pared for a whole sea­son, then who can judge them af­ter only a few games?

“IF THEY ARE ALL SO CLEVER, WHY ARE THEY NOT COACH­ING A TEAM?”

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