Who Wants It More? Lessons From The FA Cup

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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.

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The Killer Instinct!

Junior-Malanda

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” These are the expressions of Scot Peck in his classic book, The Road Less Traveled.

Indeed Life is full of ups and downs—uncertainties that we cannot unravel. And why certain things happen defies logic. That was my feeling when the news of the death of Bernard Malanda-Adje, nicknamed Junior Malanda—the Belgian under 21 international who also played his football with German outfit, Wolfsburg, went out. He was only twenty years of age. Malanda on the 10th of January 2015, by 3:35 pm local time, was trying to catch up with his teammates for a flight to a training camp in South Africa when the ill-fated SUV (Volkswagen Touareg) he was in tumbled on top speed and crashed into a tree. Malanda wasn’t putting on his seat belt and so was catapulted from the back seat right into the collision. He was the only one killed in the tragedy. This naturally left his teammates devastated upon hearing the news. The coach of Wolfsburg was visibly in tears when he was announcing this at the press conference days later when Wolfsburg decided to continue the trip to South Africa, having canceled their flight when they first got the news.

Germany’s female national team midfielder, and Wolfsburg player, Nadine Kessler , who was named the best women’s player in 2014, and her coach, a German man, Ralf Kellerman, who led Wolfsburg female team to back-to-back- UEFA Champions League titles, paid tribute to Junior Malanda when both of them received their awards last Monday in Zurich. Friends of the youngster and football stars like Thibaut Courtois, Nicklas Bendtner, Benedikt Höwedes, Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Götze paid tribute to the deceased on Twitter. Romelu Lukaku, the Everton striker and former teammate of Junior, dedicated his goal against West Ham in the FA Cup replay to his late friend.

As tragic as the unceremoniuos climax of this rising prospect who has not even shown enough of his talent is, he joins an array of footballers who had died in their prime, whether on the field of play or off it like Malanda. Only Last year, somewhere in the Indian league, a 25 years old player Peter Biaksangzuala, scored a goal and while attempting to celebrate with a somersault, he awkwardly twisted his neck—he died days later, and the marvel for me was that how could something that was supposed to bring joy ordinarily become a source of pain—death….?

This tragic incidence brings to the fore one of the often discussed trait that sports—and indeed, life possess—the concept of Eros and Thanatos which was propounded by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In his essay titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud theorized that the duality of the human nature surfaced from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos. In Eros, according to Freud, we find the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense. Thanatos (Death in Greek Mythology), is the instinct of death, aggression and evil. So what do all these psychoanalytical jargon has to do with football, or even more specifically, the death of Junior Malanda? For one, some sports scholars have identified the tendencies of Eros and Thanatos in sport—a domain where soccer reigns as king. Eros, you can say, is the feeling expressed when you refer to football as a beautiful game— Jogo bonito, like the Brazilians would call it—the mesmerizing dribbles that leaves opponents to dust, the boisterous noise that explodes from the stadium when a goal is scored, the joy that fills your heart when your favorite team wins a game, not to talk about clinching that trophy that has been eluding them since the human race face first invented fire. Thanatos on the other hand is the killer instinct which represents the cruelty of the game—the nasty injuries meted out by a combatant rival, the fights by players that make media partners swear their frustration, the hooliganism, rioting, the fortuitous collapse—and, the deaths….

LUKAKU

                                                                    Romelu Lukaku touchingly dedicating his goal to his late friend, Junior Malanda

Not convinced about Eros and Thanatos—I don’t really care much about psychoanalysis myself so I’ll leave Sigmund Freud arguments to psychologists and such minds. But then we can still call these two sides to life as I have expressed as Ecstasy and Agony. The ecstasy of triumph—and— the agony of defeat, nay, death. Why would Junior Malanda be involved in that accident? Why didn’t he just fall sick and not be able to attempt to make that ill-fated trip to join the rest of the teammates for the training camp? Why would this youngster who has hardly started his career fizzle out in nanoseconds in a fatal wreck all before we all could scream J-u-n-i-o-r!? But that is life— a space filled with so many unanswered queries—ecstasy—and—agony.

Every once in a short while, things like this unfold and reminds us of our mortality and how vulnerable we can be as we rub shoulders with the forces in the universe…. My thoughts go out to the family of Bernard Malanda-Adje and all those who grief as a consequence of his fortuitous departure.

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.