SPECIAL EFFECTS

Confidence. It’s an overused word in football. How do you measure it? Is it quantifiable? Well in my opinion, it’s rarely called into question unless a team is doing poorly and only then do we hear the cries of “lacking in confidence.” It’s one of those things in football you can’t actually SEE. Like ‘concentration,’ it’s the great immeasurable. I’ve seen both sides in the last week. I was at a Championship game at the weekend and watched a team, whom I came away thinking were “lacking in confidence,” before quickly chastising myself for talking nonsense. What they were lacking in was ability and a mentality to deal with all that the game was throwing at them.

I then watched Hamilton v Dundee United on Monday and saw the great “lack of concentration” myth.

What do children do when you ask them to concentrate? They frown and look serious, the great universal sign of concentration. How often have you seen a coach, after the team has scored a goal, bellow to his defenders, both index fingers pointing to the temple to “concentrate?” I’ve done it many, many times myself and you always hope that it has some sort of magic effect. The centre backs respond with a nod, an “ok” and the inevitable serious face.

Hamilton, had shown great spirit and determination to come back from two goals down the other night and get back on level terms and then, a few minutes later, committed the ultimate cardinal sin of switching off at a corner and losing what turned out to be the winning goal.

Switching off? A lack of concentration? A dissipation of confidence? Or just poor defending? I know which one I think it was and, whilst these are two factors which can vaguely be blamed for certain situations and a loss of form, there are other things which undoubtedly do have an effect on players and team performance. One or two of them just happen to be going on in Scottish football right now.

The experts

I was listening to the phone in the other night; there, I’ve said it. The great sacrilege for players and coaches who continue to pretend they don’t listen to phone in shows or read the papers. Most will have a peek in at some point and most will have a pile of newspapers delivered to their Manager’s Office every day that would fill a normal household’s recycling bin quota in one morning. Another great myth perpetrated by the Gaffer’s is the old “I don’t look at League tables.” Seriously? I don’t know a manager who doesn’t know how many free kicks, corners and what nightclub their star striker was in the night before, never mind not knowing how many points they have.
Players are just the same. The daily dressing room, pre training ritual of checking match reports, transfer speculation, who’s going where and who’s been where with whom.  Monday mornings in particular were like an edition of ‘Hold the Back Page’ as players clamoured to see what mark out of 10 they had been given. Whilst dismissing the journalist’s opinion as “they don’t have a clue anyway,” I’ve known many players over the years who have called the journalist in question to protest why they had “only got a FIVE.”

Anyway, back to the ‘phone in.’ It was said that players only start bothering, or their level of performance only starts being affected when the wages stop going in the bank. The old nonsense about “once a player crosses the white line (I hate that phrase) he concentrates on the job in hand.” I have a lot of respect for most football journalists, indeed I count many of them as being friends, but I’m afraid on this occasion at least, the experts’ opinion was well wide of the mark.

Are we really to believe that the current Rangers team, with that group of players, would not be performing any better if the current pantomime that surrounds the club was resolved and they went back to being a ‘normal’ football club again?
Financial turmoil, both internal and external affects players. It affects morale, team spirit and togetherness. It affects, dare I say it “confidence.” Every morning, going in to your workplace, unhappy faces from the office staff, bickering, in fighting all affects the individual. Think about how that instability would affect you in your workplace and what your level of performance you could provide.

Regardless of how well paid those players are, the machinations of the current Ibrox regime, do not bode well for team performance. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, level of pay rarely equates to immunity from feeling. From personal experience of being at several clubs in financial difficulty, rarely does team in that position, perform well.

GMS

Another interesting scenario cropping up this week and a situation which undoubtedly affects players and more to the point, clubs, is that of the pre-contract. A difficult, farce of a position to be in and one I wholeheartedly disagree with. That a player should be allowed to see out his contract with one club whilst having signed for another is nothing short of ludicrous. I am aware of the rules, but Mr Bosman, you have a lot to answer for.

Take the current point in question with Gary Mackay Steven. A terrific prospect and one that Celtic are rightly interested in. From Celtic’s point of view they MUST sign him on a pre-contract. With his contract up at the end of the season and no fee agreeable, it is the only way to force United’s hand and, whilst being slightly unsavoury it is of course, the nature of the business (particularly with one or two clubs in England hovering). Whether United then accept a reduced fee to get a player who strictly speaking, is now someone else’s, is a matter for them. There are a lot of factors to consider – will it affect the player? Almost certainly. Will it affect the other players? Almost certainly. Will he be keen on going for the same tackles, risking injury and his new, lucrative contract…? As I said, it’s one for United to consider. But at least in doing so, they’ll have the small matter of £250k compensation to consider, something that never came into it when we had the same scenario thrown at us at Dundee.

Dilemma

We were going for promotion and we became aware our main rivals in the title race, Hamilton, who were only a few points ahead at the time, were trying to sign our best striker. Like Gary Mackay Steven, his contract was up at the end of the season. Unfortunately, in financial terms, we couldn’t match their offer and the player signed a pre-contract. With only two teams really vying for promotion, it was a very clever move by Hamilton, not only would it allow them to get a very good player but it was clearly designed to disrupt our promotion challenge.

Had we the cushion of a £250k compensation package it would have been a no brainer for us. But with that not being the case – and this is where United have a difficult decision to make – we had to balance up how the negative of keeping the player would affect the individual and the team, against the negative of letting the player go and how much THAT would affect the team. To consider that, it will be important to look at the strength of character of the player and whether or not he can handle the situation and maintain his form. Will £250k compensate for that? Over to you Mr. Thompson…

As it was, we felt that letting our striker go would not only strengthen Hamilton but would weaken our team. The player in question was a strong character and even though Hamilton still pipped us in the end, we certainly felt the “double negative” of letting the player go, would have been much more detrimental to our challenge, as keeping him was.

Ultimately, players and clubs are affected by all manner of situations, ‘crossing the white line’ is no barrier to some of the goings on at a football club. Whilst players at the top level are highly paid, and the rest are only doing it to make a living, it doesn’t follow that they should be impervious to all the natural feelings of negativity and strain associated with work when things aren’t going well. It may not be the commonly held belief, but in the end, they ARE only doing their job.

Still no treble this week as my negotiations are ongoing and it would be inappropriate of me to have anyone tipping in case anything changes before Saturday.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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