Monday, 15 July 2013

The Stupid Footballer is Dead

The title is not a vendetta, and this is not a knife in the back versus the stupid footballing culture of young men getting lots of money too soon in the career.  Instead this small tome is a nice piece of intellectual and insightful piece of work by a former professional footballer.

Paul McVeigh, is a former Northern Ireland international who played in the top flight for amongst others Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City.

McVeigh retired in 2010 after making his debut in 1996 at the age of 33.  That might sound a bit too early, yet McVeigh is now a highly respected motivational speaker and media analyst ( who is utilised by high ranking sides as a voice of reason and personality to speak to young players who are going through bad times.

Part autobiography, part memoir mixed in with the type of intellect seen previously in Matthew Syed's Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers; McVeigh's book looks back on his own life lessons - such as turning up hungover for a reserve game, playing out of his skin in the first half and then hitting the physical wall after half-time.

Unlike present day players it seems McVeigh learnt from his mistakes and this is part of his theory into practice; he believes players need to put into practice mental preparation exercises as well as the physical conditioning and innate talent and skill at their disposal.

Each chapter has a mental framepoint exercise, where McVeigh mixes personal stories with mental exercises, ending with a personal appraisal of a role model. For example, Lesson Seven - Mix Intensity with Control where the author gives examples of Joey Barton, Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney as players who give into the red mist of anger from time to time, the role model he selects is Scott Parker.  A player who plays hard in training, and yet is a model professional off the field and like McVeigh has made the most of his ability to become a Footballer of the Year and England international.

McVeigh goes in depth with self-visualisation (which David James lived by) so players should imagine themselves scoring goals or saving them; focus on the game from day to day; by doing mental preparation it will improve your physical play.

My only concern would be when do young footballers get the time to do this self-assessment work on their own performance, players usually train for two hours a day and then go home.  Can they be expected to do this sort of homework when no-one is watching them?  He praises Paul Lambert immensely, and you can imagine Lambert was big on mental preparation for his young side as Aston Villa fought off the threat of relegation.

An especially enlightening story told is how Norwich lost at Leeds United due to a last minute mistake by Fraser Forster (now of Celtic).  Instead of reading the riot act to his side for losing all three points, he praised his side for doing so well and mistakes happen.  Forster felt better immediately, and his play at Celtic last season led to an England international call-up, Norwich then went on an unbeaten seven match run.  McVeigh's point is that by moving on to the next game and not focusing on the negative and instead focusing on the positive led to greater results.  Other managers would have crucified Forster and probably dropped him.

McVeigh says this was due to the time Lambert spent in Germany with Borussia Dortmund.  The perfect player for him would be a mixture of German mentality and technical ability of the Spanish footballers, particularly those from the Barcelona academy.

The Stupid Footballer is Dead is not a critique or an appraisal of the modern day footballer, more a plan of action to change the way footballers prepare for a game and then analyse their game to gain a further improvement. A must not only for football fans, but footballers themselves which is both accessible and riveting.

The book is out now from Bloomsbury Sport in paperback for £14.99

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