Players at a trio of West Midlands clubs have put in improved performances for their new managers. Birmingham City are not unbeatable but are still a lot better than they were before November. West Bromwich Albion are getting better results and, according to Baggies fans reacting to their 4-0 cup win, are playing better football. And yesterday, it seems that Tim Sherwood’s half-time team talk inspired Villa to score two whole goals and win the game. If he can do that just by talking, goodness knows what he can do when he officially starts work today.
It has set me thinking about the psychology of football. The ability to play football is not all in the mind. Players who reach the standard required for playing professional football need to have some natural talent and a reasonable physique. In addition to that, their desire to play has to be strong enough to make them willing to put in the effort to improve their skills and get fit enough to run around a pitch for 90 minutes. Contrary to what a lot of fans yell at matches or unload on forums and phone-ins, none of the players on the pitch is useless. Useless players don’t make it into League football.
So a manager doesn’t come into a club and transform a bunch of useless idiots into a great team. Any League club’s players have the potential to play competently. Someone just has to find a way to release that potential. That someone is not just the manager. Tony Pulis has enlisted the help of the senior pros at WBA. Gary Rowett brought his background staff with him to Birmingham City and they have all had a part to play in improving the performance of the players. A recent quote from Darren Robinson, head of performance at Blues, talks about sports science: “we have got GPS units, we take hydration tests, we are monitoring the players’ body mass, pretty much on a daily basis.” The psychology is also important; this includes the team talks and relationships between everyone involved: players, coaching staff and supporters too.
In high scoring sports, such as basketball, there are many chances to score and skilful players are more likely to score when they get a chance so the team with the best players usually wins. There is more possibility of the better team losing in sports with fewer scoring opportunities. In football, where there are fewer chances to score, little things can change a game. A couple of inches can be the difference between a goal and a miss. Scoring a goal can boost confidence and conceding one can undermine it. To win a football game, a team needs some skill, the right attitude and a slice of good fortune. Let’s hope we get all of those on Wednesday night when we play Middlesboro.