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7.2.2006
Are you on a party mood?

Saturday 2.59pm. Ready to party or not really on a mood? It's not a question, no matter what you have to face the music and dance. All the possible colours - mainly different variations of red and blue Ė are bombarding images to you quicker than you can absorb any of it. Your ears are filled with loud noise that gets your head spinning around. The surrounding energy gets your body so excited that you are almost dizzy and hyperventilating. You know loads of things are going through your mind but you canít reach them. There is not much room for rationality, because emotions and sensations have taken control. You see, hear and feel, probably too much at the same time not to be able to detail any single shout or face out of it. Referee blows the whistle. That makes all the sensations even more intense.

The ball hits your feet. At that moment you are the loneliest person in the planet. Unless you are sure. Sure that you have prepared. If you are not, itís just lottery. Judging eyes might eat you alive because you are too aware of them and your self-talk will often lead you into that trap of uncertainty. It is going to be a long day at the office then. There just simply arenít time for self-talk, to prepare or motivate yourself anymore. It is too late. That moment you understand no talent, skill or physical attribute is as important as preparation. You have to be sure you are prepared. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. You canít just turn up and turn it on. There are no such magic tricks. You are most likely as good as your preparation has been.

Iíve been told I have the easiest job in the planet because I have to only work couple of hours on Saturdays. I agree that I have one of the best jobs - at least for me it is - but I couldnít disagree more about the actual reason for this argument. The work that has got me to that actual event on Saturday canít ever be counted in working hours, I have committed my life to it. I would even go so far that those two hours on Saturday are not actually working hours at all, they are mere a celebration after the work has been done. The work in football is everything that happens before supporters can actually see us. It is the preparation. And preparation equals results.

Every game starts from the moment the last one has finished. Before your body is physically recovered there is no way you can do anything to win the next one. It is crucial to recover, heal injuries and build your body up again quickly. Warm downs, massages, getting enough right nutrition and hydration are just right bore, but also the necessary evil before to even start thinking about the next battle.

Before you move on you also have to close down the previous game. There are two ways to do that and neither of them is to go to the closest pub. First, you analyse the game. The most important part of the feedback is not whether it is good or bad but why it is so. Learning and correcting reasons for mistakes, building in strengths. Changing something if it doesnít work but not trying to fix it if it is not broken. Second, is to get mental closure. Being on a state of not carrying former results with you. It is good to learn to love the feeling of a victory and not accepting to lose, but no matter what Ė move on! If you still are on your glory days Ėeven if you just scored a winner - or talking about situations that you canít change anymore you can be sure you have already given you an excuse of not performing at present.

Be fair, preparation is boring. Actually, so are footballers - we are not that exciting at all. At least Iím not, although Iíve been suggested to be a bit of a nutter. Iím just bang on boring most of the times. My highlight of the day on Fridays is to get skinny takeaway cappuccino from Starbucks. Part of my preparation is to do nothing a day before a game. When we get the starting line-up, if Iím not working to get over disappointment of not playing, Iím not working at all. I want to be quick and sharp with everything and go home to my dear sofa to read or watch television. Otherwise I rarely watch any series or soaps but I can tell you by heart what is on Fridays. Some people know me then well too. When the Italian restaurant sees my number in their phone, I donít even need to order, they just answer the phone: ďYour chicken pesto pasta will be there in 45 min sirĒ.

Some donít. My last girlfriend only understood later on that she should just forget about me on days before a game. My mind often wonders at the game so Iím not always really there and listening - as we all know women always are! Fact is, that before games Iím almost like committing social suicide. Basic rules go: no other work, no shopping trips, dinner parties or meetings, I even put my mobile on silent. Anyways, Iím just trying to hint here that donít bother calling me before games because Iím on autopilot doing my routines, I have no compromises and no apologies for it either.

Important part of my preparation is mental image training: picturing and playing in my head the key elements and moments of my game. I try as vividly and clearly as possible to imagine the circumstances, situations and feelings I would face in the game - with positive outcomes of course. It doesnít work always, though, that I manage to reach my state of mind for the game. Like the other week when I was deep in going through my switch play options and suddenly another image came to my head Ė Halle Berry in a jaguzzi. I tried to get myself back giving a long pass, but there she was again, all soaped up. My concentration went, so I just stopped and went to Blockbusters to rent Monsters Ball instead. You have to know yourself. Everything works sometimes but nothing works always. You just have to find what are guidelines for your optimal preparation. Call them routines or obsessions, but these guidelines have worked for me to get closest to my peak state on a game day and I know many players have many similarities to mine in their approach:

9.00 Alarm goes, it has done it before also, that bastard! No snoozes allowed on game days, I hate mornings
9.05 Porridge, toast, fruits and coffee. Sorry Atkins, mainly carbohydrates
9.30 Time for calls if important and reading papers
10.00 Walk in a park, stretching and some light exercises
11.00 Pre-match meal of bit pasta and a protein shake, never eat myself to feeling full.
11.30 Lying down, mental image training without Halle Berry
12.00 Suit on
12.15 Leaving home, listening inspiring music loud, always driving the same route
12.50 Arriving to the stadium listening music ridiculously loud
13.00 Signing autographs, making sure all my kit is on place, sorting out tickets
13.15 Coffee from Ted, who is the nicest man around but still after five years asks if I want one or two sugars. Still never sugar for me please
13.30 Team talk. Honestly Iím not really that bothered about listening more about the opposition anymore, concentrating to own game is more important
13.45 Changing to match kit
14.00 Treatment if needed, otherwise just strapping my ankles, always left one first
14.10 Toilet, probably no need to go more into detail with this
14.15 Own exercise routines to get breathing going and activating energy centres
14.20 Warm up on a pitch with the team. Run, stretching in motion, ball work, quick feet, individual ball work. Good intensity but keeping everything short, listening to own bodyís needs
14.50 Back to dressing room. Final equipment and kit check. A protein bar. Giving high fives to everyone. Really getting to a peak state
14.55 Ready in a tunnel, referee checks you, facing the opposition, donít loose your concentration by looking anyone
14.57 Running to the pitch feeling every sound of the song ďGlad all overĒ beating in you and giving orgastic adrenaline rush

14.59 I feel good, relaxed and confident. I am so focused that I only see and hear the pitch and the task in hand. It is actually very peaceful feeling when you know your preparations has been the best possible. You are confident because you know you are ready to give the best you can. Then you can accept anything that comes out of it, normally that is enough. However, if you only start to try to pick yourself up there and then, or even worse Ė after a game is already on Ė that is not acceptable no matter what outcome it gives. It is not doing your job, it is not taking your God given privileged to play football seriously. Then you are on your own out there and eventually screwed. It should be a celebration time. The work has been done way before. On a training ground and preparing yourself physically and mentally to a peak state. Then you are ready to party on. You feel you have earned your invitation and can now express yourself.
15.00 Party on


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