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Chapter 5:- Changing Your Mental Approach To Games

Middlesbrough Football Club came back to beat Basle 4 – 1 at the Riverside to take them through to the semi finals of the UEFA Cup for the very first time, 4 - 3 on aggregate.

At the time one of the ITV presenters, an ex professional footballer who should know better, said that if there was ever a time for Middlesbrough’s big players to stand up and be counted, then this was it. 

Unfortunately, this is absolutely the wrong mentality. A mentality that's very sadly rife amongst modern day footballers, and is the main reason why so, so many players have such dramatic highs and lows in the way they perform.

Any idiot can be motivated to be the very best they can be, and to give absolutely everything they've to give when the're playing in the clubs biggest ever European game. It’s not hard, is it ?

This is absolutely not the time to stand up and be counted and to believe that it is, is wherein lies the problem. No. The time to stand up and be counted is today, tomorrow, ALWAYS. Heart. Hunger. Desire. Passion. But not just for some of the game. No. For all of it. Not just for two or three games in a row, or just against the, " big clubs ". No. Heart. Hunger. Desire. Passion - Today. Tomorrow. ALWAYS. This isnot sports psychology. This is a mentality. This is a philosophy. This is a way of life. It defines who we are as people in any walk of life. It’s what separates the true winners from everyone else. 

So, the time to stand up and be counted is when you're playing every single game that you're ever involved in. Why? Simple. This was game that took you to your own personal place in footballing history with this club. Were it not for the fact that some Boro players stood up to be counted when they were playing one of the glamour free clubs at the bottom of the league, in the sub zero, Antarctic type conditions of an English winter, Boro wouldn't have sneaked into that last UEFA Cup spot the year before this, their biggest ever European game, and so they wouldn't have been able to live that history making night against Basle and what followed. It’s that simple.

Football clubs themselves are in great, great part responsible for this problem, a problem it has to be said that effects foreign players far, far more than home grown players. But this has absolutely nothing to do with not having pride in the shirt, or simply playing just for the money, as that self styled idiot Mr Bernie, " The Legend " Slaven continuously says on his radio show. No. These aren't the reasons for this. The reasons for this are simple but they require those UK managers who are still entrenched in the pie and pea mentality to open their minds and to understand and accept what's glaringly obvious and right in front of their eyes. I'll return to this topic in great detail in a series of separate articles. 

Coming back to this article. 99% of the players I've ever known all suffer from this mentality. A mentality that either keeps them on the bench, or keeps them from a better club, or keeps them out of the national team, and my good friend Franck Queudrue, used to be one of them.

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align="left" class="style1" style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); line-height: normal;">Ahh, my good friend, “ Franchino “. The enigmatic Frenchman who longs to make his lifelong dream of the national team come true. Franck's a defender from the Italian school of defending. When he makes a tackle, boy oh boy does he make a tackle. Bang, when he connects he explodes onto that ball, each and every single time. When he miss times his tackle, or when he's forced to become, “ Claudio Gentile “, and employ his considerable hatchet skills in order to recover from a mistake, or to simply self sacrifice for the sake of the team, Kamikaze style, the unfortunate opposing player is sent tumbling to the ground like a sack of spuds, and Franck just holds up his hands and uses all his inherited French facial expressions, and with the look of a totally innocent man tries to avoid the card.

I love the way Franck defends, and if he's finally found the team that'll give him the one to one personal coaching he needs, which individualises the areas in which he personally needs to improve on, then I believe with all my heart that he'll make his dream of the national team a reality. Of that I've absolutely no doubt whatsoever. But as with anything, it all depends on training Franck in the right way, on how hard Franck's prepared to work in order to improve on his own game, even if that means that he has to stay behind well after all the rest of his team mates have long snce gone home to relax.

Franck never got this at Middlesbrough Football Club, and that’s why he came to me.

Franck has all the ability he'll ever need, he still needs to continuosly hone it, but he's got all he'll ever need. He's got the strength and he's got the physical fitness as well. All Franck needs is to have someone who tells him how it is.

The answer to the following question's one that never ceases to amaze me, as all too often the answer's always the same, and this is one of the reasons why so, so many footballers under perform, far, far too often.

So, I’m sat on Franck’s sofa at this house, and I ask him this question.

“ Franck. Which are the most important games of the season ? Think carefully. I want to know which are the really big games for you. “

Franck pauses. He then gives me the same old answer that I always get…,

“ Chelsea. Man Utd. Liverpool. Arsenal. “

Now Franck’s no idiot. As soon as I came back at him he instantly corrected himself, but by then, it’s too late and it clearly demonstrates an entrenched mindset that can only be changed over a period of time. In fairness to the Boro, a person that individually analysis players and then works with them on a one to one basis through extra training sessions is something that few clubs the world over have, if any. But I'm sure that the world of football coaching will slowly move to a stage where coaching's geared more and more to the needs of the individual, or to the few, rather than the needs of the many in big, old classroom style groups.

So, Franck goes on to say, “ Of course Slim, all games are important, it’s normal and that goes without saying. “

Well, actually, no it doesn’t go without saying. I asked him a specific question, in a specific way, and he fell into the trap. The first thing that came into his mind wasn’t that all games are equally important. No. the first thing that came into his mind was that the most important games for him were Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, and this is one of the reasons why he performs better at these games. But let me put it another way so I can be crystal clear. The first thing that came into his mind wasn’t that all games are equally important for him. No. the first thing that came into his mind was that the most important games for him were Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, and this is one of the reasons why he can under perform when he plays other games.

This isn’t to say that Franck under performs at every other game. No. But it does mean that at the games that Franck personally attaches an importance to, that he'll perform better there than at the games where he doesn’t apply any of his own personal motivations. Put simply, this means that if Franck was playing against Scunthorpe and the game was live on French national television for the French national coach to see, then Franck would play better in this game than if it wasn't.

Personally, I view this as under performing, because if Franck was able to apply and to connect this way of thinking to every other game that he plays, then his performance over the entire season would go up. This is one of the thing's we worked on in Franck's spare time.

Still not convinced ? Then what exactly is the magic of the, " Famous " FA Cup then ?

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Do you want to make your own dream of playing for the national team come true ? Then it's time for you to truly open your mind, forget the teachings of old, and embrace again what you once dreamed of before you signed that very first professional, or part time contract.

Heart. Hunger. Desire. Passion. But not just for some of the game. No. For all of it. Not just for two or three games in a row, or just against the, " Big Clubs ". No. Heart. Hunger. Desire. Passion - Today. Tomorrow. ALWAYS

It doesn’t matter who YOU play, or where YOU play. All that matters is that YOU'RE prepared to spit blood and give absolutely everything that YOU'VE to give in that one single game, and then continue to use this same approach, just one game at a time. One game will become two, two will become four, and so on. 

Cast your mind back to when you were a young boy playing in the garden with you brother, sister, mum, dad or friend, after having watched your cherished national team play in the World Cup finals. Weren’t you playing as your footballing hero, scoring a goal, and dreaming of one day doing the very same thing ?

Where has that dream gone now that you've finally made it ?

I’ll tell you exactly where its gone. Its gone as the money, the women, the autograph signing, and the VIP lifestyle started to come rolling in. You once trained like Rocky did in the second part of the Rocky III film, but now, sadly, you're just going through the same old motions, just like Rocky in the first part of that film. The all out hunger you once had to make it has gone, now that you've actually made it. Yes, you're still hungry, but it's just not the same kind of intense, all out hunger that you once had. You're to blame, and so too are the endless rows of dead beat coach’s who surround you, for they too have also forgotten their own dreams. They walk around the training ground with their letters initialled onto their club uniforms, with a mug of coffee in one hand a fucking banana in the other in a state of total relax. Here too the all out hunger has gone and you can clearly see that it's gone, long gone. The warm up procedure, the training session, the stretching, the cool down, and the slop they parade as nutrition that they provide for you in the canteen's the very same as it was last week, last month, last year, and the year before.

NO WORLD VISION - Just the same old, same old.

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To ensure that this doesn't happen you must all always adopt the same approach that ensured that Ferrari absolutely dominated every single aspect of formula 1 in recent years, winning 6 consecutive constructors titles, and 5 consecutive drivers titles. Ferrari's success lay in their never ending quest for higher and higher levels of performance through continuous self analysis at every level, right the way up to the big chief, Mr Montezzemolo himself.

In essence, the question that was always at the very forefront of absolutely anything and everything they did on a daily basis was, how can we all improve, what more can we all do ?

During those years of absolute domination, Ferrari continuously took apart every single piece of the car and they'd simply not rest until they found an improvement, no matter how minutely small it was. Then, when they put it back together, all those minutely small improvements all came together as one to make the winning difference.

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This is a mentality. This is a philosophy. This is a way of life. It defines who we are as people in any walk of life. It’s what separates the true winners from everyone else. 

So, the time to stand up and be counted is when YOU'RE playing every single minute of every single game that YOU'RE ever involved in, as every game, from a game in training to a reserve game, every game is another chance for YOU to stand out and to define who YOU are and what all of this means to YOU. It's that simple. 

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Abel Xavier has the right idea, even if you think that I don't.

Taken From The Evening Gazette - April 3rd 2007.

" Abel Xavier today called on his team-mates to show pride in the Boro shirt and salvage something from their season.

The Portuguese defender was distraught with Boro's dismal display at Upton Park and has thrown down the gauntlet for an instant reaction.

Boro entertain rock-bottom Watford at the Riverside on Saturday and the 34-year-old said: "Our objective must be to show pride and the correct attitude until the end of the season.

"It's a key element with any kind of objective you want to achieve.

"The way we conceded the goals at West Ham on Saturday dictates that we didn't approach the game in the right way.

"We must eradicate all of the faults about ending every season the same, and these kinds of negative views.

"Every game must be treated as a huge game for us. You can never individualise games.

"When we create the same mentality if we play Man United, Liverpool or Chelsea or the teams in trouble, if we believe, we will keep the same standards.

"We can't allow ourselves to get into a comfort zone or relax. If you believe and keep the same standards of focus it will have a good effect.

"But if you think that the job is done already you drop your levels of concentration and your levels of attitude in training and in games you will pay."

Xavier was one of Boro's few players to do themselves justice at West Ham and admits he feels sorry for those fans who made a 500-miles round trip and witnessed such a poor team display.

He said: "We must say sorry to the fans, look each other in the face and analyse why we fall away like this every year.

"Because we still have objectives, we still want to finish properly and play good football and create a positive environment so that the fans don't think that every season is always the same."

Thank you for your time.

Slim.