Bosses are wel­come to the mind games

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

OVER the past two weeks, I’ve spo­ken to two pro­lific strik­ers. The first was Adam Le Fon­dre at Read­ing. The sec­ond was Nahki Wells, Hud­der­s­field’s new record sign­ing.

Le Fon­dre, who has now scored two hat-tricks in ten days, is the Roy­als’ top scorer, as he was last year in the Pre­mier League.

Ber­mu­dian Wells, mean­while, has hit two goals in his first three games for the Ter­ri­ers, adding to the 15 he’d al­ready scored for Brad­ford in League One.

Both, then, are highly pro­fi­cient at their jobs.Yet what our con­ver­sa­tions il­lus­trated was what a wildly dif­fer­ing role con­fi­dence plays in the ef­fec­tive­ness of a foot­baller.

Le Fon­dre just has it. He doesn’t need to be en­cour­aged or ca­joled. His at­ti­tude is sim­ple.“It doesn’t mat­ter if I’m in League Two or in the Premier­ship,” he said, with­out a trace of doubt or dep­re­ca­tion.“If you show me a goal, I will hit it.”

Wells, on the other hand, said the most vi­tal fac­tor in his flour­ish­ing at Brad­ford was been “made to feel im­por­tant” by man­ager Phil Parkin­son. “Hav­ing some­one put faith in me, some­one who be­lieved in me, that was key,” he said.

Con­fi­dence is foot­ball’s great in­tan­gi­ble, the one se­cret in­gre­di­ent for which man­agers yearn. With it, you can win al­most any­thing. With­out it, you are doomed.

But that doesn’t mean every­body would pre­fer a Le Fon­dre to a Wells. In fact, the 27-year-old’s self­be­lief could be a telling fac­tor in his oth­er­wise baf­fling ex­clu­sion from the first team un­der Brian McDer­mott and now Nigel Ad­kins.

Some man­agers love a cock­sure player – just look at Paolo Di Canio and Harry Red­knapp at West Ham.

To Di Canio, the peck­ing or­der was sim­ple: God, Je­sus, then Paolo. He was the most ta­lented foot­baller on earth, his bril­liance in­fal­li­ble. Count­less man­agers failed to harness him. Red­knapp re­alised it was fool­ish to even try. They fought, they ar­gued, but in the end, Harry let the beast loose and Paolo did the busi­ness.

Of course, Le Fon­dre is no mad mav­er­ick like Di Canio. But then Ad­kins is no Red­knapp. The for­mer Southamp­ton boss is all about the col­lec­tive, his play­ers drilled, their roles and de­sires sub­ju­gated en­tirely for the good of the team.

It works, too, but a man like Le Fon­dre, cer­tain of his abil­ity and con­fi­dent he will score re­gard­less of Ad­kins’ in­put, does not sit eas­ily in it. Tell him to track back and he can point to the stats sheet.“Look,” he may well say,“I’ve scored 159 goals by stand­ing in their box”.

Wells, on the other hand, is des­per­ate to learn, ea­ger to im­prove. To Ad­kins, he is the per­fect player.

To some­body else, less in­clined to of­fer en­cour­age­ment, more will­ing to let his play­ers off the leash, a team full of Le Fon­dres is gold dust. Sam Al­lardyce, for one, is a mas­ter at let­ting good play­ers get on with be­ing good play­ers. Of course, the best man­agers deal with both. Alex Fer­gu­son was more than happy to let Eric Can­tona strut around like he owned Old Traf­ford.

Yet he was also shrewd enough to give out-of-nick play­ers time to turn things around, bel­liger­ently de­fend­ing them from crit­i­cism and si­mul­ta­ne­ously im­bu­ing them with be­lief. David de Gea and Michael Car­rick are two per­fect ex­am­ples.

Fer­gu­son, as ever, is the bench­mark. But what Wells and Le Fon­dre il­lus­trate is just what a pig of a job man­age­ment is.

Sit­ting at home play­ing Foot­ball Man­ager, it’s easy to crunch the num­bers, to search a data­base of play­ers, to take Mac­cles­field to the Cham­pi­ons League and fool your­self into think­ing:“I could do this”.

But what no sim­u­la­tor can repli­cate is the myr­iad mind­sets of 20odd young men. I wouldn’t swap places with any of them.

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