Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The tragedy of Fernando Torres: Chelsea’s £50m striker has fallen prey to the malaise that every sportsman dreads: a catastrophic and inexplicable loss of form. But why does this happen to top athletes and how can they recover? (John Carlin, 2/17/12, Financial Times)

The mysteries of form may reside in the subconscious but it also appears to be true that the problem is worsened by thinking too much and, as a likely consequence, trying too hard. On this point Stransky, the two American sports psychologists and also a couple of other people I spoke to, in the football and tennis worlds, were all in agreement.

Santiago Solari, a recently retired Argentine international footballer who played for Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, said that all players went through a period when their form declined, though he was quick to point out that in his case it had never occurred on a scale comparable to Fernando Torres. “There are times,” Solari said, “when you feel as if you are an unstoppable phenomenon of nature. There’s a happy convergence of the mental and the physical in your game and your confidence just grows and grows. It all seems so natural. But then you have a bad game, and then another one and you start to get anxious, and you feel each time you go out and play as if you’re walking down a step, with one brick, and then another one, weighing you down. Before you know it you’ve walked down so many steps and the bricks have piled up to such a point that you feel as if you were lying buried under a big building.”

Francis Roig is a coach of Spain’s all-conquering Davis Cup team and also second coach to the no less triumphant Rafa Nadal. Loss of form is an affliction especially common in tennis, Roig said. “It’s tremendous the importance confidence has on your game. It’s tremendous also how a rival can smell that fear in you, how he loses the respect he might once have had for you, beating you when before nine times out of 10 you’d have beaten him. Look at Jim Courier, who was number one in the world for two years – “Big Jim”, they called him – and then one day it all went; he fell to number 60 and never got back. A sort of psychosis possessed him, a desperate need to return to being the player he had been, and he never overcame it.”
Jim Courier ranked number one in the world in 1992 and 1993 – 'and then one day it all went'

What should he have done? “One way to recover your form, though there is no magic cure I am aware of, is not to dwell on the negative aspects of your game, to forget that and focus on the things you’ve always done well in your career going back to childhood.” Roig, a keen football fan, sees Fernando Torres as an extreme case who has succumbed to “a dynamic in which everything you did before effortlessly becomes impossible, and then you try harder, working double as much, but things only get worse.”

“My guess,” said William Wiener of Torres, picking up on Solari’s and Roig’s points, “is that he is overthinking each move, that something in his mental processes is not as relaxed as it once was.” John Murray, who before becoming a sports psychologist was a professional tennis player, also attaches blame to “overthinking” and counsels that for Torres to overcome what he describes as “catastrophic performance anxiety” he must try to play as he did when he was a child, “happily, for fun”. “My hypothesis,” said Murray, who has addressed loss of form problems with leading American sporstmen, “is that his confidence is shattered, that his anxiety is such that the harder he tries, the worse it gets. And he may also be in denial, which is an especially horrible thing when the whole world knows what’s going on. He needs help.”

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Sunday, February 19, 2012


Gerrard hails team-mate Carroll for 'man of the match' display (SPORTSMAIL, 19th February 2012)

There was the rare sight of Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll all starting a game together, and Gerrard hopes the end result is a sign of things to come.

'(Carroll) has been getting better and better in training and he was our man of the match today,' he said.
'We believe that the more we play together, the more we'll click. We're all good players and good players like playing with other good players. We're all on the same wavelength now.'

Carroll put the visiting defence under pressure all afternoon, contributing to the early own goal, before he got one of his own just before the hour mark.

'Every goal feels good, but it couldn't get any better today with the result as well and now we're through to the next round,' the striker said.

'We haven't played many games all together but we've been playing well in training and we put it into the game today.'

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1: match report (Jim White, 11 Feb 2012, The Telegraph)

Liverpool, with Spearing and Gerrard shielding their defence, played deep and conservative. For some reason eschewing the muscular approach that had unsettled United's keeper at Anfield a fortnight before, they played with Suarez on his own up front.

A swift break from the South American, terminated by Ferdinand's lunging challenge, was the sum of their attacking enterprise.

But then United, despite the occasional flourish from Rooney, Valencia and the excellent Welbeck, offered little more. This was a half featuring more square balls than a convention of Lego men.</blockquote>
Let's suppose for a moment that you can justify giving Stuart Downing a go...after twenty minutes you had to take him off because he wasn't helping Enrique cover Valencia, Man U's only dangerous player.  Then when he got a yellow card you had your excuse.  And there was no way you could bring him out for the 2nd half.

Meanwhile, if you're playing defensively you have to cover your bets on corners, so your best header of the ball has to be in the game.  Carroll wasn't.

And, if you're playing for the0-0 tie, you don't even have Johnson and Enrique in the game.  They're for going forward.

Terrible coaching job, again, today.

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Monday, February 6, 2012


<a href="">Make way for Joe Gyau</a>  (Brent Latham, 2/06/12, ESPN)

One of the more exciting young American attackers to come down the pipe since Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, Gyau has nevertheless been toiling in the relative obscurity of his German club's reserves since making the move to Hoffenheim in the summer of 2010. Given the perpetual American search for the country's first true superstar, that sort of under-the-radar development has in the past lent itself to urban myths which overestimate progress on limited evidence, until the player in question is released or moves on suddenly from his European club without ever sniffing the first team (such seems to be the case with Gyau's former teammate, Charles Renken, who last week completed a move from Hoffenheim to MLS).

But in Gyau's case, the murmurs about rapid progress have been confirmed. The Maryland native, and son of USMNT veteran Philip Gyau, has advanced at breakneck pace from the U-19s through the reserves, and turned up on the first-team bench coming out of the Bundesliga's winter break. He was even set to enter a match a couple weeks ago only to have the game end while he stood next to the fourth official ready to come on. Though he failed to make the bench in Hoffenheim's 2-2 draw over the weekend, a midweek German Cup match against second division Furth could be the perfect chance for a debut.

As sudden as it seems, the imminent first team bow is 18 months in the making for the 19-year-old. In that brief time in Germany, Gyau's raw talent and precocious dribbling skills have been polished, yielding a midfielder ready to contribute in one of the top leagues in the world.</blockquote>

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Friday, February 3, 2012


<a href="">Is this a brave new dawn for Major League Soccer?</a>: Players such as David Beckham have boosted the league but homegrown talent is vital for the future of MLS (Mike O'Donnell, 1/30/12, The Guardian)

<blockquote>But, of course, it is the emergence of domestic talent that is fundamental to the game's growth in any country, and particularly in one as patriotic as the US. It is hoped that the implementation of a league-wide youth development programme will bear fruit in the years to come – but who of the current crop of players look like having what it takes to eventually succeed Beckham as an MLS ambassador?<br><br>

While there should be no urgency to pronounce the arrival of the first world-class US or Canadian footballer, given how Freddy Adu failed to bear the colossal weight of expectation heaped upon his barely teenage shoulders, there is cautious optimism that Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo might make the grade.<br><br>

Shea, a 6ft 3in central midfielder, has already made 84 appearances for Dallas FC and a further nine at international level after impressing the US coach, Jürgen Klinsmann. The 21-year-old's performances in 2011 saw him shortlisted for the MVP Award and caught the eye of Arsène Wenger, who invited him to train at Arsenal during the MLS off-season.<br><br>

In a similar arrangement, Agudelo has also spent time in the UK this winter. The 19-year-old linked up at Liverpool with compatriot Marc Pelosi, who recently joined the Merseyside club's academy set-up from De Anza Force in California.<br><br>

Agudelo, a Colombian-born forward who is now a US international, became the youngest player to score for the senior team with the winning goal against South Africa last year. At club level, Agudelo has an ideal mentor in New York Red Bulls captain Henry, with whom he has already forged an impressive strike partnership.<br><br>

Are Shea and Agudelo a sample of the rich crop of young football talent emerging from within the MLS or further evidence – alongside transatlantic pre-season tours, the launch of football academies in the region and sundry commercial tie-ups (for example, LeBron James, one of the biggest sporting stars in the US, last year acquired a minority stake in Liverpool and has since become a walking billboard for their latest clothing lines) – of European clubs identifying a footballing superpower in the making and an ideal market in which to promote their brand?<br><br>

Danny Dichio, the former QPR, Sunderland, West Brom, Millwall and Preston North End striker, certainly sees evidence of the former, and believes it won't be long before a new generation of talented youngsters graduate to take their places alongside the likes of Shea and Agudelo. He should know. Dichio joined the MLS side Toronto FC in its inaugural year in 2007, before making 59 appearances for the club. Since retiring two years later, he has become the head coach of its academy team.<br><br>

Dichio says: "There is a strong current crop of youngsters coming through in the US and definitely Canada. Where we are in Toronto, we have a very diverse culture in the city, varying from Europe to South America and then Africa and Asia. A lot of these kids' parents are immigrants who have been brought up on football, so it is in their blood."<br><br>

That football is not in the blood of the rest of the population is the argument of those who believe that, for all the strides made by the MLS in promoting football and improving its standard, there will only ever be enough room in their hearts for their own version of the sport and others indigenous to the region.<br><br>

Perhaps with that in mind, the MLS has been tailored somewhat to audiences familiar with the mechanisms of American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. Peculiarities include player drafts, a franchise system (whereby players sign to the MLS itself rather than the clubs it owns), regional divisions (namely Eastern and Western conferences), and a schedule that includes a regular season and play-off fixtures.<br><br>

That there is no tier system, meaning no promotion and relegation, may seem a concession too far to many European observers. But, despite arguments that the existing model can stifle competitiveness while generating dead rubbers and surplus play-off games, Dichio says there's not much chance of it changing any time soon: "The North American fan loves the play-off system as they have it ingrained in all their sports. Relegation or promotion is not really heard of here.<br><br>

"The owners who are paying a small fortune for an expansion club now would not be happy to see their investment possibly go down to the second tier and hit their financial situation very hard."<br><br>

The formula, flawed or not, seems to be working. The MLS is now the third-best-attended sport in the US, after American football and baseball, and the tenth-most-attended football league in the world, above the English Championship, the Scottish Premier League and Brazil's Serie A. Although average attendances have remained in the 15,000-20,000 bracket since its founding year in 1996, total gates have doubled in that period to 5.5 million.</blockquote>
....why not have Premier League--and other European--squads loan their guys to MLS?

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