Last weekend there were some surprising results that got tongues wagging in the FA Cup matches played across England. The British FA Cup is the oldest football cup in the world and has always had things like this: surprise packages which many believe is the beauty and spirit of the competition. We already know the results of what happened last weekend. There were heavy casualties from the premier league and none of the top four teams were able to secure a win—in fact the top three clubs all crashed out!
The ensuing trend that bedeviled the big sides crept in surreptitiously with fourth placed Manchester United on Friday night when they traveled to the Abbey Stadium to face the lowest ranked team in the competition. In the warmth of the flood lights that supplied illumination to the small packed arena that can only house a paltry 8,127, the Cambridge United players were fired up and put up a steely performance that stifled the galaxy of stars paraded by a Manchester United side that stands 76 places above their opponents in the pecking order. At the end of the day, Manchester United was held to a draw despite enjoying a mammoth share of the ball possession. It was very much to the delight of the home fans whose jubilant expressions lit up the whole arena as they celebrated the draw that earned them a money-spinning replay at Old Trafford as if they clinched the European Cup. The philosophical Louis Van Gaal said after the game that he was “angry.”
What happened last Friday, however, would pale into insignificance in comparison to what was to unfold the next day. It was Middlesbrough who drew first blood against the English champions, Manchester City, right in their fortress—The Etihad Stadium. Although the inspirational midfielder, Yaya Toure, was far away in Guinea for Les Éléphants in the Africa Cup of Nations, City still paraded a formidable team sheet to grace the tie. The Boro side stuck to their guns and never showed nerves and boy, were they brilliant on the counter attacks? They tucked away two heart-wrenching goals, in each half of the game to the chagrin of Manuel Pellegrini and the home fans who exited the stadium with an emblem of disappointment stamped on their faces.
Ronald Koeman‘s side – Southampton, suffered similar fate. The so-called dark horse on the top of the Barclays Premier League that has fired its way back to a champions league spot also slipped up and got kicked out by a reinvigorated Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace( a premier league team though).
The most surprising casualty, by all standards, were league leaders – Chelsea. Not too many bookmakers would want to put their wad against a Jose Mourinho’s side not winning at Stamford Bridge, a bastion where they’ve not lost in any competition all season— more so against Bradford, a league one side. At first, it seemed like another routine tie as the Blues bagged in two goals. Many would have been expecting that there would be a flurry goals afterwards, especially when they featured good players that have not had much play time and would want to impress the manager. That didn’t happen. Chelsea scandalously threw away their two-goal cushion and bagged in two more goals to crash out of the FA Cup. A pang of anger assailed Mourinho as he lamented that “It’s a disgrace, a sports disgrace, but it’s a disgrace.”
The happenings this weekend made me remember a story I read in Bill Beswick’s book, Focused For Soccer: How to win the mental game. Incidentally it happened with Steve McClaren’s Middlebrough! The Boro were having a bad spell at the time and had lost four games in a row. It was so bad that during a particular game, a fan invaded the pitch and made his way to the bench where he threw his seasons ticket in the face of the manager! The next game for Middlesbrough was against Chelsea (I didn’t plan this!), who were the league leaders that particular year. Bill Beswick who was the psychologist of Boro saw that the confidence level in the team had given way to anxiety. As the coaches wracked heads on strategy and tactics in their meeting, Bill intervened and suggested that the team needed a motivational speech more than anything else. Steve McClaren gave a nod to the suggestions and instructed Bill to put something on paper which he later presented to the team as he gave his pep talk in the dressing room on match day:
It’s not the best team that wins football matches but the best team on that day. You can be the best team today. All you have to do is want it more than they do. You have won big games before, so you know you can do it, and you know what it takes. You have to work harder, out-tackle them, outfight them, take the injuries, play through pain, show them you will do whatever it takes to win. And when you come back in here after 94 minutes, not a single one of you will have any regrets. So let’s make it our day. Good luck!
You want to know what happened after that? Of course the lads went out and won the game by 3-0 in the biggest upset of that season! So what’s the morale of the story: it’s all about who wants it more—market share, the plum job, the office of the president, and all those things we want to achieve. But it’s not just about wanting it—it’s about rolling your sleeves and going through the muck— sustaining that drive to succeed, just like a player who is determined to winning every tackle on match day—ensuring you don’t leave anything in you that you can unleash to get to where you want to go. And don’t be afraid of the giants because they’ve also got their weaknesses which you can also explore to your advantage.
O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.