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19.4.2005
Mental state

There are ten minutes to go and you look like relegating from the Premiership, what would you do? Would you accept it and call it a day? Or would you play like there was no tomorrow? Your next season, your career, your life is down to the result, is it really about football anymore?

Long are the days of nice, pretty and skilful, now you just want pure results, no matter how it comes. For awhile we were offered a relegation, saying goodbye to the luxury of the Premiership, we were closer to Turf Moor than Old Trafford in the last minutes of the game against Norwich. Six pointer looked like no pointer for us. We hadnít budgeted that. We definitely could not afford it. We looked like bankrupt. That is the moment you pull the money you didnít look like having anymore. We did. Even after a disappointing day we fought ourselves there to get our share. We might still not be wealthy but we definitely have some credit left in our card. Thanks to what we are, not what we have. It was a mental state.

Letís face it, whether you are playing for trophies or relegation, the champagne football is over, at the moment which ever cheap beer will do as long as it gets you there. It is all about small little things, turning a loss to a draw. We are talking about margins now. Those often favour the brave and happen to ones who want it the most. It is a mental state.

Football is a funny sport. It is basically about skills and all those footballing qualities. But when it really matters, these things really matter not that much. You want personalities and personal qualities, something beyond athletism and skills. You want someone daring and wanting it badly. And playing like it. Biggest players and games are traditionally won and remembered by heroics of attitude instead of any individual skills. Being something is a mental state.

There are 28 days left in this season. That is not much. It is not at all. It is too much for someone. Too little for another. Down the bottom it is a four horse race. It is impossible to say which one has the best chance to win it. I think you need the final line pictures to announce the lucky one. The luck is something you shouldnít and you canít count on but it plays a role this time of the season. Luck also favours the ones who dare. When small things can result to big things, every situation and every call is important. The surviving is all about every situation. Again, best prepared are taking the most of every situation. It is also a mental state.

Predicting results are impossible now. Coming end of the season the names and football abilities donít give you the right answers. Fixture lists are deceiving. In April and May you canít just simply bet for the team higher in the league table or the one that has better players on paper. Would you play your best game just before a FA Cup final or Champions League semi-final or have another feet already thinking of those games? How hard would you go to any situation if you already are mid-table safety with nothing really to play for anymore? How about if your career was on the line? After a long season there are reasons that go beyond ability to play. It favours who wants it the most. So it is a mental state.

It is much better to prepare to games when you know what the score is. Do or die situation is in many ways better than thinking there are still games to come. We are down at the bottom. We have been asked the question. Every day we have to answer it now. For 28 days. You know you got to produce. On the other hand a mid-table safety, hitting those 40 points have often made teams and players taking feet of the gas and starting to plan summer holidays and next season. You try not to, but it often happens unconsciously. Those are teams that can either win games because they are relaxed or loose all of them because they are too relaxed. Still they are not going to put their feet through the same challenges than in the beginning of the season. But when you are in our boots, you need a result and you have to be committed to it. Nothing else will do. You play every challenge like it was your last. Commitment is a powerful football skill. Commitment is a mental state.

Long season has taken a lot from everyone. Physical and mental conditioning is crucial now. All the statistics show how much less people run and tackle coming end of the season. And how many easy goals are made and conceded now. I donít think about football anymore. I couldnít care less about fancy tricks or skills. Itís about a mental state. Good thing about mental state is that you can control it yourself. You canít come bigger, faster or more skilful over night. But you can choose at any moment your mental state, how much you want it. Are you going to show up and be counted?

Iíll tell you what. I donít know how rest of the results will turn out to be. I donít know if we are going to stay up. I just donít know because it is going to be down the wire. I do know we will die for the cause. I do know we will fly into every challenge and game, and we will give a hard time to anyone. I do know we will never give up. I also know this is often enough. The ones who want it the most will stand up. The ones that can handle the pressure. The ones who have something to die for. The ones that have done the details throughout the season. And are still doing. Those are often not the same ones that can hit that great pass at the training ground. In the end of the day football is not the most important thing. Wanting something is!


Aki


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