Earlier this month, Rory McIlroy gave us all an unbelievable example of what can happen in sport when your confidence goes. One minute he can’t miss a shot and is romping away with the Masters, the next he’s missing putts from two feet. His technique wasn’t the problem because that hadn’t changed, but his nerve had gone and when that happens you’re screwed. There’s nothing you can do about it. It was excruciating to see … and I feel the same when I’m watching Fernando Torres.
Now, every goalscorer will have phases where nothing goes in. I remember I lost it once – and those 20 minutes were the worst of my career. But I’ve never seen a goalscorer having such a bad time over such a prolonged period as Torres. The worst thing is he doesn’t even look like scoring.
It seems to me his problems, just like McIlroy’s, set in when he started thinking about things too much. When you’re doing something naturally, you’re carefree and away you go, but the minute you start thinking about it you’re b******d! That’s true in any profession, not just sport, and there’s only one answer for Torres – somewhere down the line, he has to get to a point where he really doesn’t care any more. When he lets go of his feelings it will all come back. One will go in off his backside and you’ll be amazed by what follows.
Javier Hernandez at Manchester United is a perfect example of that. He’s scoring for fun and that’s why the goals keep flying in. He’s playing on instinct alone, although it will be interesting to see how he copes when he goes through a bad spell of his own which, I guarantee, he will. I like the look of the boy, though. His pal, Wayne Rooney, is a forward who scores goals – and one of the best in the world, no doubt about that – but Hernandez is an out-and-out predator. His prime objective in life is to score, when being a goal-poacher is something of a forgotten art these days.
I put a lot of that down to the ’70s, when coaches all went the same way. They decided their sole desire was to see a player run around for 90 minutes. Unless you ran you weren’t a good player and, while I was fortunate, there were many – including Tony Currie, Frank Worthington and Stan Bowles – who suffered. Hard to believe, but the art of goalscoring has never been truly appreciated by some managers.There were times I’d come in from a game having hit the winner for Spurs and you could tell by the look on Bill Nick’s face he was unhappy it was me.
I’d have done what he thought was next to nothing for 90 minutes and been the hero, when he’d probably had 10 others doing exactly what he’d spent the week asking them to do and for no credit. All that said, there’s still probably a timeline of goal-poachers which travels from me through Kenny Dalglish, Gary Lineker, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen to Hernandez and, you have to say Torres, too, when he’s scoring.
The one who intrigues me now is Dimitar Berbatov at United – top scorer in the Premier League, but far from an automatic first choice. I can’t work that out, but I’m not going to question the game’s greatest manager. I’ve got every confidence Sir Alex Ferguson knows what he’s doing.