The Blog that's not always wrong.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mental weakness

'Mental weakness'. Can it be the cause of all our woes? It certainly seems to be gaining ground quite widely as the comprehensive explanation for our failure to hold a winning position, most recently at Everton. It is not a new accusation and we seemed to have overcome it recently. When we were constantly losing to late goals a couple of seasons ago it was the subject of some debate.

However as a theory it worries me, especially when so many people take it up like a slogan with such enthusiasm. As soon as people seize on any theory: Comolli or mental weakness or Gareth Bale or Harry or whatever to explain everything I get doubtful. Life thankfully, is never that simple.

This season we seemed to have overcome many of our previous hang-ups which is why we are doing so well. I list a few: scoring the second (and on occasions the third, fourth, fifth and even ninth) goal: coming from behind to win and draw; holding on to win; scoring late to win; winning five times away from home.

In general, keeping our nerve and seeing things out. Stoke and Everton were the exceptions rather than the rule. The games against Manchester Utd. Chelsea and Arsenal might be said to show mental weakness but it could be that we were beaten by better teams, or shot ourselves in the foot by individual errors.

So why this sudden attack of mental weakness in a season where we have generally been mentally strong? The idea that Spurs are mentally weak seems to suggest that it is something in our genetic make-up at Spurs. Even players that arrive mentally strong succumb. Is that the reason why a promising player like Gareth Bale loses it? Or why Wilson seems so jaded?

Easier explanations are available; injuries or personal problems in these two cases. If it is mental weakness its a difficult problem to address. Again I list some possible remedies: the appointment of a more uncompromising and experienced captain; the appointment of a team of sports' psychologists; late goal electric shock aversion therapy; severe fines for poor passes, tackles, and missed opportunities. If its a long-standing Tottenham problem then I am not hopeful of a cure.

Actually I am. The first cure is success: winning games breeds confidence and I think that this is true of this season. All the other remedies are football ones which are easier to implement than attacking 'head' problems even on an individual basis let alone as a team or club neurosis.

Lets start with better tactics. Trying for the third goal when you are 2-0 up on 59mins. is not unreasonable but the game plan changes when you are 2-0 up with 10mins left. If the players don't know this from their own experience then better and more comprehensive coaching is the answer.

Better and quicker substitutions in response to the situation and the tactical changes of the opposition. Giving the team a clearer understanding of what is required of them collectively and individually at different stages of the game depending on the situation. 'Visualizing possibilities and outcomes' I think they call it in modern coaching theory.

All these apply to the Everton game and they are down partly to Harry and the coaching staff not just the players. We dropped points at Everton in my view due to purely footballing reasons; poor positioning (Kranjcar Bale and Bassong) poor clearances (Palacios) failing to retain possession of the ball(everyone more or less), dropping too deep when under pressure( a perennial Tottenham habit). Was all this the result of 'mental weakness'?

These are all deficiencies that can be cured by better coaching at team and individual level, after all even Aaron has learnt how to cross. Better players and a new manager might cure most of these problems but I do not advocate either. We are, as many point out frequently, doing very well, so wholesale changes are not required.

Lack of leadership on the field is another possibility. The first step might be to appoint Dawson as captain given the uncertainties surrounding Woodgate and King's injuries and now Keane, who has been regularly subbed and has not started the last two games.

He is likely to become first choice centre half and plays with wholehearted enthusiasm and has improved as a player. At the moment he is fifth choice captain, after King, Keane, Woodgate and Jenas. He might lack experience but would grow into the role and certainly give leadership. He has scored twice in two games as captain and a settled back four pairing would certainly help.

Is it the answer to everything? Obviously not in the same way that even if there is an element of truth in the accusation of 'mental weakness' it is not the whole problem. 'Mental weakness' doesn't do it for me: it has a somewhat mystical element: 'The Ghost in the Woodwork at White Hart Lane' and ignores many more basic problems.


Anonymous said...

excellent point. harry and the staff are just as to blame for the everton game. Chelsea 2.0 up kill the game dead, they keep the ball, they sub a forward and pack the midfield ( wilson and hudd were just over run in the end ). They dont care about the game at 2.0, they make it as dull as possible and they win. With us it just doesnt seem in our make up, we leave ourselves so open, things like this are alwasy going to happen. We can forget top 4 until this problem is overcome. Top 6 would be a good and realistic finish for us at present.

Anonymous said...

Mental weakness comes from high number of young players: Bale(20), Lennon, Hudd(22), Bassong, Corluka(23), Dawson, Palacios, Kranjcar(25). Those other older players are not leaders - Defoe, Crouch, Gomes. Also closing the game out is easier said than done when your players do not suit such a tactic (this is one area where O'Hara helps a lot). We are better trying to get goals than stopping them. 3rd/4th in table = indicates that it is working fine. Play like this to end of season and see where we end up. After that, try to tweak it. It ain't broke so don't fix it.

TMWNN said...


Good article. I can see why a lot of people put these frequent collapses down to 'mental weakness', but I believe the only weakness in their heads, is that they don't possess much of a brain in the first place.

There was a good article in the Times yesterday citing the problem as a lack of a plan B on Redknapp's behalf.

I believe it's a mixture of only being instructed to play one way, plus a lack of brains or experience from the players.

We need someone on the pitch who knows exactly what to do, and tell the others to do it when a game looks like slipping away.

In short, our players (and maybe manager) are a bit thick.

Totallytottenham said...

The only mental weakness that could apply hear would be in relation to Jermaine defoe's missed penalty. Given the time between the award and taking of the penalty and his track record, I don't blame him either. The fact that we lost 2 late goals is just symptomatic of the PL itself. There have been plenty of late goals and dramatic comebacks so far this season. Times are predominantly going out to attack rather than sitting back. Harry said it himself this team is set up to have a go and we will concede goals. I for one am delighted that this is the approach we have adopted.

Protecting a lead simply does not work if you haven't got the players to do it. Spurs set up with four attacking players and allow the midfield two freedom to get forward as well. We can not expect to have it both ways. we had enough chances to put Everton beyond a come back but once they scored after 78 mins when Bale switched off the outcome was inevitable.

Results like this happen, but our bad fortune on this occasion will even itself out and I have a feeling it will be against Man City! If we win on Saturday and beat the mancs we could be five points clear of them come wednesday evening depending on their outcome at the Reebok.

This is a fantastic season and I just some spurs fans would recognise this and not look to knock players coaches and 'mental conditioning'! This year we are seriously competing for a place in the coveted champions league! whether we get there or not, enjoy the ride be proud to wear you shirt in public and embrace what is happening at the club. We can hold our heads up high for the first time in many years as real contenders, as real supporters of a real club!


Anonymous said...

you lot talk a load of fucking bollocks..did defoe mental weakness lead to him being the best striker in fucking plum...we need a leader in the middle of the park a perryman or a roberts type player that leads by example....huddlestone is not the player we need in the middle of the park and wilson needs to do what he does best and that is just sit infront of the back 4 and break up play...The midfield at the weekend stopped playing pure and simple....those areas need to be addressed if we are to be a top 4-6 clib

Anonymous said...

Delusions of grandeur do not help either. Defoe 'best striker in Europe'? Do not tell me that you wouldn't pay 20 million plus Defoe to get Torres, Drogba, Et'o, Villa - just to name a few. Defoe is nowhere near, and is still yet to get a decent Premier league goal tally in a season. He is still not an established international player - these are basic criteria for being a contender for 'best striker'. Off topic I know, but why be abusive and say unfounded stuff like that?

Anonymous said...

I think we desperately need a captain who plays in a position to influence things and organise teammates (ie probably centre midfield or centre back). Dawson has the spirit but has only played a handful of games and is probably our fourth choice centre back, Keane is not guaranteed a place and has been substituted a lot recently, Ledley and Woody dont play often enough and arent even guaranteed to finish a game which they start, and noone is convinced of JJ's leadership qualities. Captains of winning teams (Terry, Keane, Vieira, Gerrard) have all been guaranteed starters, recognised on pitch leaders, fairly robust, vocal, and aggressive. We havent really got anyone like that and till we do, we will struggle when things dont go our way. Although I dont like him and he may be past his best as a player (possibly too far), this explains Harry's intereste in Vieira - and Barry before him.

pushnrun said...

Another great article,which almost had me persauded until you got all mystical and I remembered that even when we were 2 up I was apprehensive. When Crouch missed without working the keeper, according to the ref., I said to a mate, we might regret this.... and so
we did.

When they scored with 10 to go I actually thought defeat was a high possibility and in truth I was bitching about the time to be added for Wilsons injury 'cause I feared Defoe would miss and give them enough time to score! Spurs fan all my life!

The problem is youth and a failure to do what we can do well... keep the ball in the final minutes. Up until the substitutions Everton had lumped the ball to Jo. His replacements, although better players should have been starved of possession, but all of a sudden they were playing through us as well as winning back possession. Jenas on for Lennon or Defoe would have sent out a Jol like message, but I prefer Harrys approach and trust in the players.

We became anxious because we have lost out before. The solution fortunetly is time. This lot can play and need to be given the chance to learn. 4TH place is about right and after Wolves should still be ours. COYS

TMWNN said...


You make a lot sense of there, but unfortunately players these days, the good ones anyway, won't wait for those around them to get up to CL level. Not more than a season or two anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I will approach the subject by its general rule. First of all a person is born with a mentally strong or weak character. It is something you can't change. Second we all must know the major/gold rule of the game is: only the players can win or lose a game. Only the players can score, miss a chance, win/make/score/lose/save a penalty, lose or keep position etc. Nobody else can do all those things. Not the trainer, not the president, not anybody else involved in a team. According to this rule, the problems of our team at present are: 1) the luck of a mentally strong/with strong personality player in each of our lines to give leadership on the field 2) the luck of a number of players who are "born winners", 3) it doesn't seem to me from the players we have bought until know all those years that the members of the board and the management staff know this major rule of the game. So I think Spurs with the players they have now only by luck or by lack of stronger opponents can win most of their games (we lost every single game where our opponents have fulfilled in a better degree than we the above mentioned rule).

Anonymous said...

I disagree only in that I believe the manager can make a difference between winning, losing or drawing. The good ones anyway.

JOHN ADAM said...

I share a lot of the views above but it is all behind us now. As a Spurs supporter, I can only hope and pray that the players have learnt their lessons and will in the future organise themselves better on the field and show their true worth in winning matches that are within their grasp. Good leadership, good team work, a strong midfield, a solid defence and the determination to win and fight till the last whistle are the key factors.

Anonymous said...

Look everyone is getting very pedantic about what is missing from the squad. This is Harry's first full season and he is the one who has known for a long time that a leader is needed. The reason he brought Keane back to Tottenham, as he so frequently likes to remind us. Unfortunately that hasn't worked out so well and Ledley who is our leader cant spend more than 10mins without getting injured. The chances of Harry picking up a leader in January isnt likely, as everyone holds onto their best players, so it wont be until next season that we will get someone that will make the difference. So as fans we are going to have to sit tight for this season and hope then see how the Premiership pans out next season. 4/5/6th is a sucessful season for us this year. Then steady the boat next year with some experience and leadership.

JimmyG2 said...


I agree with comments applauding playing attacking football,playing on the front foot and using our attacking flair.
Thats the way I like us to play.
But what I am trying to say is that we concede like we did at Everton not because of this alleged 'mental weakness' but because of basic football factors which can and should be addressed.
We might regret those missing points at the end of the season.


I dont mind being abused when someone gets worked up because they disagree with me but you apparently agree and still have a go.

As Anon 15:13 says anyone who thinks that Defoe is 'the best striker in Europe'is not really to be taken seriously

alwyn said...

I'm trying to be as optimistic as I can here: the Everton could really be just a case of yippee doo daa dumb bad LUCK.

This season it's happened to us twice: first w Stoke, now Everton. For sure if it happens once every 4 games luck won't explain it (just like in the past we kept letting in late goals). But two unlucky games in about a dozen isn't that bad. [I'm obviously not including the Chelsea, Gooner and Man U game where we were simply out-classed and outplayed, IMO].

But, in Jim's spirit, let's look on the bright side: we played well *away* against two top sides, coming from behind in one (and almost winning) and taking the lead with another (and should've won).

I concur w Totally Tottenham that we gotta help the team ride thru this great season, and not throw any spanners (mental or otherwise), though I personally hope Harry threw a few in the locker room after Everton's game.

Finally, i did a word search through this post and its comments and I couldn't find the word which could change our season (and/or restore the confidence we had with the first 4 games): MODRIC. Every Spurs fan in Kuala Lumpur is burning incense (or saying our Friday prayers) for Luka - can we have an Amen from UK too?

elwehbi@ibleedhotspur said...

Great article JimmyG2!

It's great to have Modric back, however, I do not want to see him rushed back as it could have a negative impact on the player if we are not back to our winning ways instantly. The press will make sure of that. I would love to see him back on the pitch against City as his creative flair will be needed, but how much playing time do you think he will get (if he plays)?

JimmyG2 said...


'Amen' from the UK.
You have to try and eradicate 'luck' from the system,through better planning,coaching and training regimes though it obviously will still lurk in the shadows.
I am not being optimistic here, those are facts.


I agree with anon 17:01
The manager can make a huge difference in terms of preparation and mental readiness, as well as tactics and coaching.

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