I have borne a view of the drive of mentality in football and even in life and I had been in a dither to discover whether it works until I met English and Liverpool football legend John Barnes. Indeed, I had come to wonder how a team like Brazil will always qualify for the world cup, Germany will always make it out of their world cup group stage and a likelihood of a huge disappointment if a team like Italy fails to make it out of a world cup group like what happened in South Africa two years ago. Answers to questions around these thoughts were provided when John Barnes came to Ghana to apparently help a financial drive for the Retired Footballers Association of Ghana in last year.
John Barnes expounded how a team like the Netherlands will continue to perform well at the world cup. His exposition threw light on how the Dutch have been mentally toughened to believe that football is part of them and going to a world cup provides an avenue to showcase the talents they are made up of. For that matter, they are psyched up to perform their utmost in the world cup. Germany also have the same mentality to the extent that they will deem it failure if they go out of a world cup at the Round of 16. On the other hand of the spectrum, a team like Ghana will deem it satisfactory if they make it beyond the Round of 16 in a world cup. Therein lies the mentality of the two football nations.
In the 2010 World Cup, for example, Brazil were hugely disappointed with their quarter final exit culminating in the dismissal of their coach Dunga. They went ahead to lambast some of their world class players claiming they were not being committed to the course of the Selecao. On the other hand, the Black Stars progression to the quarter finals of that world cup was deemed an out-of-the-moon achievement to the extent that the players did not mind if they losing their quarter final match. They were satisfied to have equalled an African record in the world cup and did not worry their heads over going beyond it. Indeed, Ghana would have made it to the semi-finals and probably the finals of the 2010 World Cup if the players had been psyched up to the effect that the quarter final appearance was not a novel achievement for the continent. Ghana’s quarter-final appearance at the world cup saw the state awarding the players and the management and technical committees with national honours while Argentina, who reached the same stage, sacked their coach Diego Maradona.
Any Ghanaian male U-17 team will have come under a backlash if they exited a world cup at the quarter-final stage because the mentality that has been formed about the Black Starlets is that winning a world cup is the highest achievement at that stage. Consequently, one does not get surprised when an U-17 squad member states that they are going to a world cup to bring the cup. But you will agree with me that if you hear a member of the Black Queens express the same sentiments, you will ask that player to come again. That is the sort of mentality we have formed around them(the Queens) based on the performance – first rounders at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Even at club level mentality plays an enormously significant role. And the mentality of the players rests with coaches. That is why most clubs especially in the English Premier League do not refer to these people as coaches but managers. Indeed, they manage the players performance by psyching them up as much as they can. During the preliminary round of this year’s UEFA Champions League for example, I saw how Udinese went to England to play against Arsenal so well that the match ended barren. Nevertheless, the mentality of the Arsenal players that they have always played in the UEFA Champions League group stage came to the fore when they beat the Little Zebras of Italy at the Stadio Friuli to make it to the group stage.
With the niche the Black Stars have carved for themselves over the past years in the annals of the Africa Cup of Nations, going out at the quarter final stage at Gabon/Equatorial Guinea Cup of Nations will be a big disappointment to most Ghanaians and the players as well. I am even forced to think placing second could even come with a backclash. This is simply because the opinion of all goes to provide a passion for the team to perform not worse than winning the title.
All in all, if the management committee do not put in any plans of getting the players mentality positively formed to winning the tournament, it MUST frantically do so. For Coach Goran Stevanovic that is already sorted as he claims he came for the job to win trophies and the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations will be his first shot at a trophy with the Black Stars. If the team’s management committee thinks he can not easily radiate this mentality to the players, it should quickly hire the services of a psychologist to do this because a first round exit (touchwood) will not go down well with us all.