Thursday, December 7, 2023

Manchester United v Chelsea – battle of the minds?

The mind games are in full swing ahead of the Champions League final on Wednesday night. After Joe Cole said to the press that Cristiano Ronaldo is not as good as Messi, Nemanja Vidic has suggested that Didier Drogba sometimes goes down too easily.

Last week Avram Grant hinted that referees show unfair bias towards Manchester United and Fergie replied that it was sad when people couldn’t accept defeat gracefully.

I just wonder if these ‘mind games’ actually have any effect whatsoever on the opposition. Before the semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool Rafa Benitez stated that he thought Didier Drogba sometimes dives. In the deciding second leg Drogba scored two goals to see Chelsea to victory and the press said that what Benitez had said had backfired on him.

Are we seriously to believe that Drogba played better because of what Benitez had said? Can we expect Cristiano Ronaldo to produce a better performance than he has all season, so that he can show that Joe Cole just how good he is?

To me, mind games seem to be pointless exercises. The quality of the ‘psyching out’ is pretty poor generally and if these terribly hurtful words actually have an effect then I think it says more about the recipient’s state of mind than that of the person saying it.

It all started, of course, back in 1996 when Sir Alex Ferguson won the ‘mind games’ with the Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan. Manchester United and Newcastle were battling it out at the top of the table. Fergie’s side had just beaten Leeds United and he suggested that when Leeds played against Newcastle in a forthcoming fixture they might not try as hard as they did against his team.
This led to the public display of anger that Keegan displayed in his famous “I’d love it if we beat them” speech.

Sir Alex was held up to be a Machiavellian genius for the way he cleverly exerted such mental pressure on his opposite number and helped his side to the title. The fact is, of course, that anyone with half a brain could see that Keegan was folding under the considerable pressure of trying to lead his team to the title. The fact that Keegan so spectacularly ‘lost it’ was because of his state of mind, not because of the genius of Fergie.

So, do we think that Avram Grant’s comments about referees favouring Manchester United will have affected the atmosphere in the Old Trafford camp? Do you think there have been arguments and tears as the players consider this clever piece of psychology delivered by the Chelsea boss?

What of Didier Drogba. Now that an opponent has suggested that he occasionally goes down a little too weakly can we expect him to meekly go into his shell, afraid of challenging for a ball in case someone moans at him again?

Now that the referee has been warned by Chelsea to watch out for the simulations of Cristiano Ronaldo and by Manchester United for the simulations of Didier Drogba, can we expect the referee to favour one side or the other because the way one of the clubs made their comments was more psychologically damaging?

It is a commonly held belief amongst the football public that footballers, on the whole, are thick. I’m sure this is a very long way from the truth in most cases, but it is what people think. Sadly, if any of these childish attempts at rattling the opposition actually have an effect, then I would have to sign up to the stereotype.

I was amazed that after Liverpool’s semi-final defeat, Rafa Benitez was continually asked if he regretted what he had said had about Didier Drogba as it had spurred him on to score two goals. Benitez shrugged the question off saying that he was sure it would have played no part in the proceedings.

Surely we don’t think that footballers are so thin-skinned and so emotionally and intellectually challenged that a critical remark to the press by someone from the opposition actually has an effect on how they play? Do we?

Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez and Avram Grant will all do whatever they can to improve the chances of their teams. They are very good football managers but to my knowledge, none of them possess a first class honours degree in Psychology.

You will be amazed to hear that even Jose Mourinho was not a trained psychologist. That’s right, he was just self taught.

All of the accusations, innuendos and counter accusations and innuendos are good fun to read and they make good talking points prior to a game. What they don’t do, apart from with Keegan in 1996, is have any effect on the opposition whatsoever.

So, long may the ‘mind games’ continue, but please don’t take them too seriously. The players and managers who break these stories in the press are great players and great managers. Not one of them is a genius however. Whoever wins the game on Wednesday will do so because they played better, had some luck, took their chances, were well organised, or employed superior tactics. It won’t be because of the unsettling nature of something the other team said in the press!


Graham Fisher



  • Chibueze Ogbuagu

    0 0

    If only Chelsea will sign Quaresma (as Barcelona won’t let us have Messi just yet ….) . He’s the kind of creative/combative midfielder we need . On my PC (FIFA)game I already had Quaresma transferred to Chelsea two seasons ago (after our last Champions League encounter with FC Porto)

  • Chibueze Ogbuagu

    0 0

    If only Chelsea will sign Quaresma (as Barcelona won’t let us have Messi just yet ….) . He’s the kind of creative/combative midfielder we need . On my PC (FIFA)game I already had Quaresma transferred to Chelsea two seasons ago (after our last Champions League encounter with FC Porto)

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