What the hell was he going to tell them? Wiser psychologists than he, dealing with children, will tell you that they should be allowed to play; and that doesn’t mean being regimented into football.
Yet now we hear of clubs running teams of under tens and even under nines. Yes, every now and again you might find a glorious talent such as Jack Wilshere’s, so large that he has been able to train on since boyhood into the splendid footballer he is today. But he is surely the exception that proves the rule. And it is arguable that children obliged to fit into teams so early will find their potential flair, not to mention their enjoyment, stifled by regimentation.
Ah, football and psychology! What curious partners. I am not in any way disparaging psychology as such; in my twenties I read and largely admired almost everything that Freud, as opposed to Jung, had written. But how painfully well I remember, when a few years ago, the advice to the players promulgated by the psychologist then attached to England somehow slipped out and was made public; and what a farrago of banality it was. I recall that Ray Parlour, an Arsenal winger of the time, was particularly scathing.
At the 1958 World Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Brazilians brought a psychologist wit them and I spoke to him. A small, spectacled, unshaven man who wore a grey jersey. Players, he told me, were divided into two kinds: the instinctive and the rational. They made good wing partnerships. He anxiously advised Brazil not to pick Garrincha, altogether too unreliable a player, or Pele, who was far too inexperienced. These two duly became the refulgent stars of the tournament.
At a press conference shortly before the final, won 4-2 by Brazil, a journalist asked the Brazilian manager, Vicente Feola, what he thought of the psychologist. To which the interpreter replied, “Senor Feola is not saying he wishes the psychologist would go to hell, but he is thinking it.”
Managers in turmpil. Martin Jol at Fulham, Owen Coyle at Wigan, Dave Jones at Sheffield Wednesday, Gary Flitcroft at Barnsley, have all toppled.
Andre Villas Boas, on the same weekend, seemed to be hanging by a thread after Tottenham’s 6-0 humiliation by Manchester City, achieved a 2-2 draw against Manchester United and unleashed a bitter outburst at his critics. Never a wise move.
In Italy, where two defeats almost traditionally mean, if consecutive, a manager is fired, Jol surviving an appalling run of defeats at Fulham, would seem absurdly privileged. The manager as sacrificial victim? Hardly. Remember how Chelsea suddenly revived when Villas-Boas was fired and Di Matteo took over?
Yet you do wonder how much a manager like is to blame when a player as expensive as Erik Lamela arrived for £30 million and does nothing? How responsible for that was Spurs’ senior executive Franco Baldini? Which reminds one that in his native Italy, managers are not responsible for transfer policy, though they carry the can when it goes wrong.
A little learning is a dangerous thing. Tony Pulis, now installed as the new manager of Crystal Palace, tells us how much he enjoyed his managerial break travelling to the Crimea and America.
In the former, “I went to the palace where Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin cut the world up after World War Two.”
The Presidential ancestor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The swashbuckling figure who called the American Presidency a bully pulpit “and believed it best to speak softly and carry a big stick”?
Quite probably he would have stood up to Stalin far more resiliently than Franklin Delano. But Franklin Delano it was.