Football

Player pressure at boiling point

RVP & Torres are both under pressure - for different reasons. (©GettyImages)
RVP & Torres are both under pressure - for different reasons. (©GettyImages).

Pressure is a funny thing, particularly when it comes to football.

The word is so regularly used within the game because everyone seems to be under it. When a player is doing well, they are under pressure to continue. When doing badly, they are under pressure to return to form.

As for managers – the recent sackings of Andre Villas-Boas and Mick McCarthy show that the top jobs are always under fire.

On the pitch, it’s predominantly the forward who holds a team’s burden of expectation, and is therefore under the most pressure to be successful. Without a striker banging in the goals, would-be wins can turn into disappointing defeats.

“No [he doesn't feel the pressure], as long as he scores regularly…I always tell him ‘don’t feel that you have to absolutely score in every game – other players can score. Focus just on your game,” said Arsene Wenger recently.

Notice the ‘as long as he scores regularly’ line from the manager. For Robin Van Persie, who has scored 25 league goals this season, it’s a nice burden to have. Arsenal, and perhaps more importantly Wenger, need their man to keep scoring.

Without his goals, where would the Gunners be this season? Certainly not in fourth place, and one can only imagine struggling to maintain a spot in the Europa League positions.

It’s a predicament Chelsea have found themselves in, and one former manager Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for following the recent defeat to West Bromwich Albion.

Fernando Torres was signed for £50 million last January, but at no stage has shown the ability to match such a fee. And, of course, with such a price tag comes an extreme level of pressure.

As time goes on and Torres continues to struggle, the pressure gets greater and greater. Is there ever a final point where it all becomes too much?

"Torres is always in the front row for critics. He plays in attack and should be scoring goals, everybody knows that, but we have played many games without him and lost anyway. It is not fair to make him a scapegoat," said defender Branislav Ivanovic.

"He is under so much pressure because everybody is after him, the papers and the fans, but he has our support.”

Maintaining the support of your teammates is crucial in making sure the pressure doesn’t boil over. When things are going wrong and the pressure is on, people can quickly turn against each other in an effort to turn the focus away from their own problems. It’s often the striker who finds the blame lying at his door.

The easiest way to ease the burden of expectation is to try and put football into perspective. It’s a trick Newcastle United signing Papiss Demba Cisse has managed to learn over time, and has helped him settle quickly into life at St. James’ Park.

“I don’t feel under pressure now because I don’t stress about things. It is not pressure to play football, I’m just eager to do well. My will and my desire are strong. I just want to show what I can do here. The price tag doesn’t worry me,” he's quoted as saying in The Daily Mirror.

A philosophy Fernando could certainly try to follow at Stamford Bridge, but one that’s hard to stick by when you’ve previously won a European Championship and World Cup winners medal, but now can’t seem to do anything right.

The trick for a great manager is obviously to try and take the pressure off his player’s shoulders. For young players coming through the ranks, it can be daunting as you make your way to the very top of the game.

Taking the Premier League as the example, every win, loss or draw is scrutinised many hundreds of times over, with any error or mistake highlighted for the watching world to see.

It’s trying to forget that scenario which can be such a problem for the best young talent, but is an area which Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp managed to excel during his time at West Ham United.

Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Frank Lampard all came through their renowned academy, as did Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, and he credits Redknapp with managing to take the pressure off his young players as a key skill.

"He makes you feel a million dollars when you're a kid. You didn't go into the first team thinking the pressure on your shoulders was crazy and that you were scared to make a mistake,” Ferdinand told The Sun.

"He always said making a mistake wasn't a problem, he didn't mind that, but if you continued to make the same mistake and didn't learn from it, then it was a problem.”

With England renowned for crumbling under the pressure at major competitions, perhaps Redknapp’s ability to give players that feeling of being able to play without fear is the best reason for why he should take charge of the Three Lions.

The simple fact of the matter is that the English top flight is now the richest and most watched league in the world, and with that comes the huge weight of expectation on the shoulders of both players and managers.

And, whilst owners are happy to sack the man at the top, the options are limited with a player who is struggling to find his form and can often come down to the manager’s own personal faith in a player.

Once that’s gone, the player is under pressure to prove his worth all over again. Does it ever end? No, because so much now rests on everything. Playing without pressure is now confined to the school playground.

Topics:
Robin Van Persie
Football
Premier League
Fernando Torres

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