The significance of that West Ham wall

The wall for the West Ham free kick towards the end of the season once again highlighted the unseen problems that exist at Spurs.

The significance of that West Ham wall


As a sports coach the question you have to constantly ask yourself is, how can I improve, what more can I do?

That approach is the same approach the coaches at Tottenham should be taking and the same approach that every player should be taking, unfortunately however, it is not.

Improvement does not have to be large but lots of tiny improvements. When they add up, continual tiny improvements make a significant difference, which can translate into major improvement.

The process is like taking a car engine apart, analysing how every piece can be slightly improved upon and putting it back together to have a more powerful, more efficient, faster unit.

The pieces at Tottenham last season were not put together in the most productive manner. Someone watching from the sideline or even Hugo Lloris is goal has time to see what is happening, what is wrong, not everyone though can figure out how to put it right. Under Andre Villas-Boas we has a manager who crammed players into a system, rather than say how can I get the best out of this individual.

Improving one player he is good at, he improved Hulk and Gareth Bale significantly but to the detriment of everyone else. Take Bale out and the cracks could no longer be covered up. The players were still constrained, some played out of position and they became frustrated.

The engine wasn't put together to be at it's most efficient and he couldn't work out how to improve it. Tim Sherwood was merely an interim manager asked to make the game more fun. By that I mean attack, more, entertain and score goals, the results were pretty much irrelevant, a new mechanic to take the engine apart and rebuild it was already being sourced.

A player or a coach should act in the same way. A coach should be analysing their own performance and making continual improvements to each aspect where he feels he can. He or she should be doing the same for each player. Each player should also be analysing themselves and working to improve in addition to the tasks the coach wants.

When I hear that Christian Eriksen is married to football and has to be dragged from the training field then it's heart warming, because there is a player who is doing just that, looking at his own game and making his own improvements. That is the mind of a winner and the club needs all the payers it can get with that attitude, not just one.

Ronaldo improved leaps and bounds at Old Trafford because he worked individually with the assistant manager to improve his own game in addition to his other team training. That takes a special mentality, a special desire to be the best. Gareth Bale has the same approach. His recent quotes were that he wants to win the Ballon d'Or next season, that shows his mentality, I want to be the best I can be, there are no boundaries.

Ask yourself who, apart from Eriksen, has that same mental drive at Spurs at the moment?

Players are paid a high wage to be the best they can be, not to go through the motions or perform at what they believe is their best, that is merely a glass ceiling. Every player can achieve more than he thinks he can, until he changes that mental approach he will always be holding himself back.

Spurs have significantly improved the training facilities, the medical care, the nutrition available over the years. However any improvement is offset if a players mental approach is not right, if he doesn't feel that every game is a big game. A player who gets himself up for Manchester United but not for Crystal Palace is a player who is going to let you down.

Fans, media all talk about the big games, they are not big games, they are just another game worth 3 points against a strong side. Norwich away was a big game, we lost. It was worth the exact same points as a trip to to Emirates or Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool did so well because their sports psychologist had them recognise that and approached every game in that manner. The result was they were winning games early, were in front by half time more than any other team and could then simply control the game. Results were in their own hands.

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Not only must a players physical and technical aspects be broken down and continual fine improvements made but his mental approach must be taken apart, improvements made and and rebuild with these lasting upgrades. That takes specialist knowledge, that takes a sports psychologist not a manager, a football coach doesn't have the capacity to do that. All he can provide is temporary motivation that soon dissipates.

If you look back over the past few years where Spurs have been striving for Champions League qualification, we have been the nearly men, the men who have bottled it at the crucial stages again and again. We have bottled it in the perceived big games because players, in their heads, believe themselves as a team to be inferior. We bottle it against perceived lesser teams because players don't have the internal motivation for them, that's something the club needs to work on.

Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final a few years ago was a case in point. Norwich City away last season another.

We have succeeded in some perceived bigger games yes, that will always happen but overall there is a clear pattern, overall the team with the better mental approach will win and against our major rivals that isn't us.

Last season was a prime example. When we were mentally right Chelsea struggled and could create nothing, but as soon as a mistake occurred, mentally we fell apart when the exact opposite should be occurring. That is the job for a Sports Psychologist not a manager or in our case a Head Coach, he doesn't have the tools to train that. He should recognise the requirement and bring someone in to deal with it, failure to do so is inadequacy on his part.

Two players of equal ability can have contrasting careers, Rooney and Ronaldo immediately spring to mind again. One, Ronaldo, has a greater winning mentality, he sees every game as a big game and the other, Rooney, does not. One will be consistent one will not. One will earn more, achieve more, play for bigger clubs and win more trophies, one will remain stuck, a quality player but one who could have been so much better.

To change a players mental approach you have to pay attention to every little detail. Family life, food, physical, mental, tactical, social, everything. You can't just turn up for work and say OK now I'm going to be motivated. If you are out getting drunk and falling over you are not ensuring you are in optimum shape to perform your best regardless of recovery time.

As I have pointed out before with Paulinho, a streak in one aspect of your life will impact and affect other areas. Admitting he was too lazy to learn English demonstrates clearly the wrong mental approach. He is not trying to be the best he can be and his performances in Brazil are backing that up. Communication is vital, understanding what your coaches want, what your teammates want during a game is enhanced if you can understand what they are saying.

He is now seeing the folly of that approach, thinking he can just flick a switch and everything will come together, it won't. Now he has a struggle to raise his game to the level it was a year ago. Effectively he is hiding. By that I mean he may still want the ball as much as ever but he does nothing with it, a sideways pass, a backwards pass, let someone else take the responsibility of creating something, basically he is bottling it. He needs his mentality sorted out.

In this day and age there is software available that can instantly isolate a players performance during a whole game, whether that be on the ball or off the ball. The first step would be to take a series of games and analyse exactly what a player does. You will find repetition such as the Assou-Ekotto backheel when near the touchline in defence.

Now remember you are looking for every aspect of the players performance, so for instance if he puts his hands on his hips he is indicating to the opposition he is tired, he is indicating a weakness.

When he goes for a header is it with total determination to win the ball or to just be involved in an aerial duel? You can see the difference yourselves when watching a game. The approach of Michael Dawson and Vlad Chiriches in that respect is marked. There is no doubt Chiriches is a more talented player than Dawson, but Dawson has the mental approach that every game counts, every challenge counts, Chriches doesn't, mentally he is weak.

You all see defenders like Dawson or John Terry dive in front of a ball to block a shot in any way they can, others stand off, turn their back, or half heartedly dangle out a foot, stopping the ball is not everything to them, they actually don't want to get in the way. Is that the right mental approach?

You see countless goals deflected into the net because of a dangling foot or a half turned body. Adebayor and that man Paulinho again in the wall, step out the way of the ball against West Ham. Could you see Dawson doing that in a wall? The mental approach he has needs to be instilled in every player. A team with that determination is a team that will win.

Who among our current crop, if you put them in the wall in that West Ham game, would do a Paulinho and who would do a Dwason, who would get out the way, who would get in the way?

If a sports psychologist could get hold of Chiriches and change his mental approach then he could become a top top player, without an improvement in his mental game he will always be limited, poor in the air and error prone.

Mentality is what makes a player. Look at Jan Vertonghen and compare him when he was motivated every game to the end of the season with no motivation at all, he simply wasn't the same player.

As part of my preview for the Fulham game I looked at how many times we have conceded the first goal in recent games, 10 out of the last 11 was the incredible answer, before Fulham it was 8 games on the trot. That has nothing to do with ability, the players have the ability, that was solely a mental approach problem.

Injuries are another example during a game, fake injuries I mean. The player who goes down when hardly or not even touched and then clutches an imaginary injury, especially if the game is continuing is another sign of weakness. The guy on the floor is being dictated to by the opposition and he is of no help to his team on the floor at all.

Plenty of them continue lying on the floor pretending so they can get treatment for their non existent injury simply to try and justify lying there. There is a player who will always let you down and look to blame someone else. Could you see a player like Scotty Parker doing that? He gives you 100%, he doesn't lie around on the floor for a sympathy vote.

You see these weak individuals arguing with the referee because the player knows they have make a mistake and they want someone else to blame, it's the refs fault for not giving a free-kick. That is a weak mind. A group of players round a ref is a different matter, they are trying to intimidate him to in future make decisions in their favour to compensate for a perceived injustice. They are trying to make the ref subconsciously feel guilty and make amends.

If a player goes over to easily it is a lack of physical strength and the opposition will just exploit that, knocking him off the ball continually. Some players will fight for the ball back others will whinge and moan while sitting on the floor. You can almost hear them crying, it's not fair mummy. Frustration leads to a lack of concentration which leads to mistakes.

They will moan at the ref, feel the world is against them and kick someone back, getting themselves booked. I'd be interested to see stats on that, how many times a player is knocked off the ball and how long it takes them to commit a foul as a result, plus how many before a booking tackle.

Change the mental attitude and you will eliminate some of the mistakes, no football technique will change that, it has to come from the mind.

Strikers are subjected to mental pressure constantly. They are paid to determine the result of games by putting the ball in the back of the net. If a striker misses an opportunity and series of opportunities his confidence can start to dip because he is letting his teammates down, Roberto Soldado was a prime example last season.

Two things will happen, he will either hide and avoid chances, playing in areas of the pitch where he contributes but doesn't appear in the box to often or he'll keep putting himself in the position to score again.

Regardless of whether he keeps missing he is demonstrating the right mental approach, don't back down from the challenge, don't hide, put myself in the position to miss again. stand up to be counted, eventually the tide will turn. You can add to the other aspects of their game to improve them but the player who hides is mentally weak, they are simply trying to avoid embarrassment.

Sandro's tweet on that Saturday morning was a mistake, yes he is telling the fans he was not picked, which he didn't deserve to be at that time anyway, but it was just hurt pride and his desire to play in the World Cup. He knew he has poor, he knew he has been off the pace, easily beaten, he wanted games to get himself ready for Brazil but that was not Tottenham's problem. It's down to his attitude that he missed the World Cup, with the right attitude he would have been in the squad.

What about substitutes. How many subs do you see simply going through the motions warming up, smiling and waving to the crowd. They are saying I don't want to do this but it is something I am required to do so I'll just make it look as if I'm warming up.

They are not psyched up for taking part in the game, they are not getting themselves in the best possible physical shape which could prevent them pulling a hamstring soon after coming on. They then have to take time to try and mentally attune themselves while the game is already going on around him. They should have already done that and become motivated as well.

The result is a lack of consistency. they will put in ineffectual performances that he and the crowd will then say were down to him not having enough time on the pitch, when in truth it is entirely down to his poor mentality, his poor mental preparation. It's no surprise some suns have a greater impact than others, it's their mental approach being right.

Success come from the mind and transmits itself to the heart. Every action is a positive or a negative so next time you are watching a purported transfer target, watch every aspect of their game closely, indeed watch each Spurs player closely. You'll spot loads of examples of a positive or negative mind.

I'm going to harp back to Nabil Bentaleb again because that lad has the right mental attitude, he doesn't hide, you can see the fight and desire from him all the time. If we had 11 like him we would be winning the title. Sandro is usually another, Dawson has only got where he is because of his mentality. We need players in every position with the mental approach, every game matters, every game is big.

Football is a team game with 11 players. A club should have a playing philosophy from child through to the first eleven, they should all play the game in the same way, to the same formula, the same system.

Mauricio Pochettino wants players who will buy into, listen and accept how he says it has to be done. Each player has a role and each player must have the right mentality. He is quite happy working with youth because there is hunger there, there is the mental attitude that can be nurtured.

If you have two teams of equal ability where one has 10 players with the right mental attitude and one has 5 players, which side is going to win 9 times out of 10? The answer is obvious.

A cricket game I was paying in springs to mind, a meaningless friendly against a Stars XI for want of a better name. I was a second or third team player, I can't remember which bowling against a West Indian test match opening batsman. I was giving it my all, trying my absolute best, as I did for every game. The batsman edged the ball and it went sailing through the slips (they are the people standing waiting to catch the ball behind the stumps) and not one of them moved.

Just prior they had been laughing and joking so i gave them an angry verbal volley about lack of effort, about always trying to give your best for the team not just think of yourself. I was basically telling these star paid first XI players that their mental approach sucked.

That example shows the difference between winners and losers, winners try all the time, losers try when it matters to them, trouble is nobody knows when that is.

A team is not just that a team, but a team of individuals. Those individuals must work for the good of the team all the time, within that is the opportunity for them to shine, but the team work ethic is vital.

Spurs will need it next season, they'll need the right mental approach, or the system we'll be playing won't work.




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