I don't like the phrase 'mind games'. It gives too much weight
to something that really is not an important feature of the game.
It's a catchphrase that has seems to have entered common
parlance ever since Kevin Keegan cracked up live on television in 1996.
The then Newcastle
manager's very public meltdown was accredited to Alex Ferguson, who had apparently
toyed so expertly with Keegan's mind, the Magpies' title hopes were dashed.
But people forget that, although Newcastle blew a 12-point lead that season, the damage had already been done by that point. Keegan's team lost it long before he did.
It is natural for the press to blow up spats between the managers, but when I was playing we never worried about that kind of thing in the dressing room and I doubt whether anything has changed.
Football matches are won on the pitch, not
off it. It's as simple as that.
Sure, players need to prepare before the game, both physically
and mentally, but what an opposition manager says or does prior to kick-off really should
Players should be focused enough to be able to concentrate
on their own games and not get distracted by someone else's words. If you cannot motivate yourself to play a game in the Premier League without having other people's insults pinned to the dressing room wall, then you really have no place in professional football.
I see these so-called mind games as no different to fans
winding their mates up down at the pub. They want to get a reaction - and they usually
do - but that really should not have an effect on the outcome of matches.
Keegan merely cracked under the pressure of a title battle
with an excellent side that ultimately was able to last the distance better
than his own, and not because Ferguson
got the better of his mind.
So forget about the 'mental battles' between managers like Ferguson, Rafa Benitez and
Arsene Wenger as the season draws to a close.
It might be fun to read about all their little barbs they make at each other in their press conferences, but don't make the mistake of thinking any of that will affect the result.
All we should be concentrating on is the action on the pitch
in what is destined to be the most exciting run-in for years.