You can be blessed with the quick feet of Lionel Messi, the vision of Paul Scholes or the technique of Cristiano Ronaldo but it will all amount to nothing without the vital ingredient of self-belief. The psychological demands of the beautiful game are all too easily overlooked, when in fact they help contribute to some of the most exciting and often surprising incidents in the sport.
I think we’re all in agreement that Barcelona were the superior side in their recent Champions League clash against Chelsea. Had one of their multiple chances at the Bridge found the back of the net then perhaps we would be reading a different fairytale altogether, rather than this modern day version of David and Goliath. Their failure to score coupled with the outcome of El Clásico planted a seed of doubt at the heart of the Catalan giants, which continued to grow as the clock ticked down.
You could sense the atmosphere had changed after Messi crashed his penalty against the crossbar, as Barcelona continued to knock on the door rather than searching for an alternative route past a resilient Chelsea rearguard. As they swept the ball across the box in an arc formation it began to dawn on me that their failure to penetrate through had left them bereft of ideas. This was highlighted by the usually assured Lionel Messi picking up a booking for a rash challenge, a clear sign that the unyielding confidence of the Spanish giants was crumbling away.
Forgive me if I appear to be belittling the achievements of Chelsea, who were sensational across the entire 180 minutes. Whereas their opponents were found lacking, Drogba and co were thriving on the confidence Roberto Di Matteo has installed in them since his transition from sidekick to top dog. The Blues knew that it would be foolish to compete with Barca’s own brand of football, but instead of letting this demoralise them they were buoyed by their own belief that they could weather the storm and punish them on the break.
You need look no further than Fernando Torres for evidence of the fragile nature of self-confidence. In the not too distant past the Spaniard was idolised in Merseyside, flourishing in the admiration of the fans, his fellow team-mates, his manager and perhaps most importantly the national press. Introduce the concept of being valued of £50m and suddenly all that washes away and is replaced by the weight of expectation. Torres has endured a torrid journey in his search for that defining moment of inspiration and if Gary Neville’s reaction is anything to go by, he found it at the Nou Camp.
The importance of confidence is even more apparent in the Premier League, as it helps shape the contrasting fortunes of a number of clubs. Newcastle are a team playing with a creative freedom gifted to them by Alan Pardew, a man who has somehow bought a sense of cohesion and team spirit to a club that was once in disarray.
The Toon Army could arguably be credited with stealing Tottenham’s crown as the most exciting team in the division. The Lilywhites flaunted a similar style of attacking football in the early part of the season that led many to hail them as outside title contenders and portray Harry Redknapp as the front-runner for the vacant England role. However, the club have struggled to overcome the significant defeat against their North London rivals Arsenal and have unquestionably entered a state of freefall. Redknapp is often praised for his man management skills so it will interesting to see if he can resurrect his teams battered mentality before they slip out of Champions League contention altogether.
If we drop down into the Championship, Reading represent the perfect example of a team blossoming under a manager who shares the gift for motivating and inspiring his players. Much like Di Matteo, Brian McDermott isn’t blessed with a wealth of experience but they both possess a natural talent for getting the best out of their players. Compare these two with someone like Sven Goran Eriksson, who has enjoyed success across the continent and is regarded as a master tactician. In spite of this I feel the Swede was always hampered by his ability to ‘gee up’ his squad, which inevitably accumulated to his failure with the England national side and a growing number of domestic clubs in the country.
It’s logical to suggest that you can never have too much confidence given the ‘world beater’ attitude it inspires from within. However, we know this is not the case and we only have to look at the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Mario Balotelli to witness how an inflated ego to be detrimental to ones career. It can also be seemingly impossible to get back, hit a bad patch of form or endure a spell on the sidelines and you might witness players literally trying to hide on a football pitch. Has Michael Owen ever been the same since he pulled up all those years ago in his Liverpool shirt? Will we ever see the forgotten talent of Manchester City’s Michael Johnson boss a midfield again?
Confidence therefore is vital, without it and you won’t even see a pass let alone attempt it. Too much of the stuff and you lose all sense of reality, trying audacious lobs from the highway line much to the frustration of those around you. As the title race reaches its peak City will be buoyed by their recent run of form whilst United confident from the fact they’ve been here before. Who will emerge triumphant? No one knows and that should inspire confidence about the state of English football from within all of us.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I’m confident Chelsea will be joined by the Special One in the final.