Written by Ian Cheeseman
Despite that late Samir Nasri equaliser against Sunderland, there was a resigned look on the faces of the City fans I saw leaving the ground near the end of the game, and although the eternal optimists will never throw in the towel until the statistics confirm the 2014 Premier League Champions, I think most of us now feel it’ll be Liverpool or Chelsea.
So much of football is psychological, and we can look at individual tactics, team selections and the qualities of individual players until we’re blue in the face, and they all play a part, but the real difference between teams who are fairly evenly matched is attitude.
Watch most top quality sporting events and it’s that mentality needed to win the big points, score the vital goals, that makes the difference.
At school, the only sport I excelled at was badminton. To be fair there weren’t many others who played the sport, but it was non contact, so it suited me (I was a softy).
My main rival was a lad called Dave Travis, and if I’m honest, he was more naturally talented than me, but I used to beat him by fighting for every shot, never giving up, and simply having a better will to win. He had the talent, I had the determination. It was the same for me in table-tennis. I’d hang on, against those who could smash and spin. Eventually they’d hit the net, and I’d win the point, and they’d call me lucky.
I’ve never thought I was the most naturally talented commentator/broadcaster but I’ve been prepared to work harder and longer, and I’m my biggest critic. I achieved my dream of being the City reporter by being obsessed and never giving up.
In football, how many times have you watched a game where the team appears to lack drive and imagination and then suddenly the opposition score and within seconds your team suddenly responds and finds a goal. “Why do we have to fall behind before they start playing?” A phrase I’ve heard hundreds of times.
At Liverpool, City responded at 2-0 down, at home to Sunderland, City poured forward at 2-1 down, and looked more likely to score, as they chased the game.
I believe City have the best “players” in the Premier League, but there have been several occasions when they haven’t looked like the best team. Against most of the lesser teams in the Premier League, having the best players is enough to win the game, but in those more closely matched games, will power, determination, not being vulnerable to mental excuses, are all key factors. Just as an example, Fernandinho said he was tired after the Sunderland game, suggesting that Liverpool have played many more games than City this season. I looked up, just out of curiosity, how many games Fernandinho had played, in all competitions, compared to Steven Gerrard. City’s midfielder has played 42, the same as Gerrard, who’s also played 42.
We can endlessly discuss how refereeing decisions have been crucial in a game, and of course in Cup games those decisions are more prone to affecting the result, but over the course of a league season mental strength, I believe, is more decisive.
Tim Henman fell short of what he could have achieved, Andy Murray is a sportsman who has maximised his talents. Henman was Dave Travis in my analogy, while I was Murray.
Staying on the tennis theme, Roger Federer is City, overflowing with flair and natural talent, and at his/their best, capable of beating anyone. Rafael Nadal is Chelsea or Liverpool, technically inferior but with a drive and will to win, that stretches his/their physical capabilities to the maximum, to find a way to win.
The title race is not yet statistically over, but just like that game of monopoly, when a couple of your opponents have hotels on all their properties and all you’ve got is the “Old Kent Road” and “Waterworks”, the end seems inevitable.
There’s always the possibility you could be lucky with a “Chance” card or by throwing a double six, but you now have to rely on the “others” walking away from the game because they’re tired, which doesn’t seem likely does it?
But you never know!
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