Even though Sir Alex Ferguson has retired from ‘active’ involvement in football, we can all see his influence imbedded on the modern game, like a cattle-handler’s brand burnt onto the side of over a tonne of prime buffalo wandering the prairies. I’m referring not to his tactical knowledge, over the top motivational skills, or getting arsey with the referee over a few decisions that didn’t go his way, but his favourite pass-time of the ol’ mind games.
If you think about it, before he started to amass the huge trophy haul he did, no-one really entered into the practice of bluff, double bluff or reverse psychology to gain his side a head start. Bill Shankly would never be-moan the inadequecies of his Liverpool side – far from it – while the likes of Malcolm Allison and Ron Atkinson took pressure off their respective sides with their larger than life personalities. Brian Clough, meanwhile was just a bighead, giving it large the capabilities and attributes of his own managerial skill. Thing was, he could - and did -walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Not even Sir Alex could equal Clough’s achievement of winning consecutive European Cups / Champion’s Leagues. Ferguson had continued ‘War of Words’ with Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish, who both fell ‘hook, line, and sinker’, for his banter. Who can forget Keegan’s outburst coming to the conclusion of the 1995-96 campaign. Us neutrals were captivated. We just loved it – really loved it.
With Sir Alex more interested on reading the horse racing pages than the football section of a paper while drinking fine wines, the mind games are continued with predominantly Messers Mourinho and Wenger. Never one to say something sensible, when controversy will gain more headlines, the Portuguese is more Clough in some of his statements than Fergie. Oh, to have the two of them go head-to-head. I won’t even contemplate who would’ve come out on top. That would have been a television spectacle worth viewing again and again – Clough v Mourinho. Shame it never happened, as like Clough, Mourinho has won the league title at more than one club (admittedly in different countries), so in many ways are very similar.
Our French friend at Arsenal, however, is champion of belittling his own team’s chances – if you believe what he says, his side are still a couple of seasons away from winning the Premier League title, still require a couple of players in key areas, and do not travel all that well. Just have a look at the table, as regards points and form, and tell me who is at the top / virtually the best. Lulling your opposition into a false sense of security is becoming common place.
After the draw for the last sixteen of this season’s Champion’s League occurred, first two clubs to be-moan their bad luck were current holders Bayern Munich and Spanish giants Barcelona. The paper talk is both the Germans and Catalans are quaking in their boots at meeting two of the best teams from the Premier League. Codswallop. They’ll be licking their lips in anticipation, and looking to the heavens to say ‘Thank You’ to the gods of Association Football for avoiding Real Madrid, Dortmund, AC Milan and the only English club with a serious chance of lifting the trophy this campaign – Mourinho’s Chelsea. Not many players and teams are so over confident these days to state pre-boxing match style hype whipped up to a frenzy, they will win. You look a right, royal buffoon if you lose. Hence why, Bayern and Barca claim to be ‘scared’ of Arsenal and Man City. It’s clever – if the foreign clubs win, they played better than expected. If they lose, their initial statements were correct. I just hope at the Emirates and Eastlands, all of this is being taken with a huge pinch of salt. Wenger himself should know of old, with his many encounters with Sir Alex over the years, what mind games are all about.