In the build-up to this most eagerly anticipated of sporting events, there has been considerable time spent dissecting every single aspect of tournament football and the decisive factors in the upcoming World Cup feast.
Yet more than ever before, issues of character and temperament appear to be surfacing regularly, and this could well prove to be vital in the progress of each nation, most pertinently England.
In recruiting the services of the much-respected Dr. Steve Peters, Roy Hodgson has tacitly accepted the importance of mentality and psychology in what will be an intense, pressurised cauldron of emotion for every member of his 23-man squad. Long gone are the farcical days of Eileen Drewery and her faith healing strategies; in this World Cup, mind-frame and attitude are deadly serious topics.
Another example of how crucial a balanced and well-blended squad can be is evidenced by the French; since the colossal disaster of the 2010 World Cup, in which the team crashed out at the group stage following an embarrassing assortment of bust-ups between players and staff, the FF has made a concerted effort to bring about a degree of harmony to the national side. Indeed, this has been touted as the reason for Samir Nasri’s exclusion, with the Man City midfielder considered too temperamental for the tournament environment - Dider Deschamps admitted that he “picked the best French squad, not the best French players,” an acknowledgement that it takes far more than simple talent to succeed on this, the greatest of stages.
Within the England side, Ashley Cole fell victim to similar sentiment - Hodgson claimed that the left-back was a “number one, not a number two” and to include him in the squad as a non-starter would be to upset the brittle balance needed to ensure squad unity.
In making this decision, the England boss made a significant statement that the needs of the team come above the needs of the individual. This is in stark contrast to previous England squads, where the levels of pandering and fawning to individual players eventually harmed the performance of what was a highly talented side.
Even today, the WAGs debacle of 2006 serves as a painful reminder of how it can all go sour without absolute focus and control. Therefore, it is encouraging to witness the lengths Hogdson has gone to in ensuring that each and every one of his players is in the best frame of mind possible to face the considerable challenges that await them.
There are, as Cheney stated, known unknowns and unknown and unknown, and the latter not even the greatest manager can prepare for. But for those we can see ahead, it’s reassuring to see that things are going well.
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