Thursday, 12 March 2009

Winning mentality

When I wrote about the toughening up process which I labelled Sparkyisation I focussed mainly on physical strength and stamina. Craig Bellamy, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Wayne Bridge and Nigel de Jong are all better athletes than those that they replaced. They are bigger, stronger and last longer - into games, and, if all goes to plan, into seasons. But I think Sparkyisation extends beyond the merely physical to the mental as well.

It's about inculcating the squad with a mental strength so that it fights to the death not just for big games but twice a week every week for nine months each year. Look at Manchester United, (or Chelsea 2004-07) - they never know when they are beaten, they fight back from deficits, they score late goals and score crucial goals. We're nowhere near this. One of the most disappointing things of this season has been our failure to launch late comebacks, but our vulnerability to them. How many late game-changing goals have we scored this season? The late own goal at Midtjylland, and the equalisers at the Parks of Ewood and St. James. But on the other side? The stoppage time goals which lost us the home games against both Merseyside teams, the late equaliser at Brighton which took it to extra-time, the late losses at the Hawthornes and the Reebok, and just last month the late equaliser against København. This is not one of our strong points.

But mental strength goes beyond just late goals, it's also about the whole club's approach to success. Having success rendered so alien to City over the past thirty three years has meant that even the prospect of challenging for a trophy is viewed with incredulity. Remember our two FA Cup quarter-final surrenders of March 2006 and 2007? They were the performances of a side who didn't take its presence in a cup quarter-final seriously, who felt a bit embarrassed to be there. And this wasn't against Manchester United and Liverpool; it was West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers. Removing that whole irony about success has to be one of the main thrusts of the club's leadership. One of my favourite things Garry Cook has ever said was this, eight days before the ADUG takeover:
“I’ve got to change the culture here. I talk to my employees about it. You get 'This is England, not America, you know’. And then 'This is Manchester, not London’. And then 'This is City, not United’. So do you roll over, play dead and go home? No. Today you can grow faster than it took United.
And in the context of the UEFA Cup Mark Hughes has made similar comments. This article in Thursday's Independent by Ian Herbert quotes Hughes talking about the importance of winning a trophy; both on its own terms and as a symptom (and cause) of a new winning mentality within the club:
Hughes has gone to great lengths and incurred serious unpopularity in some quarters at Eastlands to imbue his side with what he calls a "winning mentality", something Robinho has also said he feels City lack. For Hughes that means stripping away years of poor match preparation and cultural flabbiness at City, as he sees it. But a trophy would be a fundamental part of the club's cultural development; a staging post on the bigger Manchester City journey.

"Winning a trophy brings many things to a club," Hughes said. "It gives you an understanding of what it takes to be successful. It changes the mentality of players, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively if you think you are going to do it every year. There are things that you have to be mindful of and you have to hit the same standards year on year – that is what the top clubs are able to do."

I don't think we're going to win the UEFA Cup. But if, in eight days time, we have overcome Aalborg we must not get carried away (although we must not be embarrassed to be in the last eight), but simply realise that this is just what serious football clubs do.


gavin said...

well done for getting 'inculcating' into your piece

JPB said...

Thank you very much.