Liverpool legend Graeme Souness - a potent mixture of silk and steel - knows what he’s talking about!
If winning was easy, every one of us would be kings and queens. If it really were that simple though, we would never feel like royalty or get any joy from wearing the crown.
Winning is hard. No matter how talented your team is, no matter how much money your club has to spend, winning is a grind.
Even for the most well equipped of individuals and teams, triumph is only achieved through the most arduous of toil. And everyone experiencing that feeling right now, from Norwich City to
Leyton Orient, know being good enough to win a title, just isn’t enough. You need something else to prove you have what it takes.
It’s this essence, this secret knowledge that everyone who hasn’t quite reached those levels before wants to acquire. Just like all the miracle diets, fads and supplements we see being hawked on Instagram with the promise of being thinner, fitter and faster (and gobbled up by the gullible and the desperate), we all want to know the one thing we have to do as a football team that will bring us promotion, a trophy or just able us to survive.
After all, “success” comes in many forms, not only by winning something shiny.
As a young player, I wanted to know what it took to be the very best. To be a winner. So one day, many moons ago, whilst deep in conversation with an old manager of mine, David Hodgson, I asked him what was it that made the Liverpool side he played in so special. What made them winners?
Hodgey had been part of the Anfield dressing room slap bang in the middle of Liverpool’s incredible multiple-championship and European Cup-winning era and what he discovered was
that A winning mentality was already there. There was always an edge to every training session and everything the team did.
Their training sessions were treated no differently from matches which taught him that great performances and winning wasn’t something that you could turn on and off like a tap. Whether
it was a game of cards or a five-a-side, a tremendous desire and a will to win was a constant thread that ran through everything they did. Sometimes frighteningly so.
So although they may not have had similar personalities, because their character was shaped the same, that correct mix meant they drove one another on day after day, week after week
and, eventually, title after title.
I was reminded of this story after Graeme Souness’s rant on TV about how tactics become redundant if the desire isn’t there in a player to get to the ball first. Now, the debate on this
seems to fought between the modern progressives and the dinosaurs, or at least that’s how I’m depicting it.
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On one hand, there are those shooting down Souness for his apparent rejection of the strides the game has made intellectually over the past decade, opposed to those hardliners who
agree wholeheartedly that the modern-day player doesn’t want it it enough.
The truth, though, is somewhere inbetween. Those whose biggest asset is their will to win aren’t always victorious, just as the most intelligent players who have been prepared the best
tactically won’t always defeat the hard workers.
You strike gold when both talent and hard work meet and that is exactly what Liverpool had in their golden era.
What people who are more aware of Souness as pundit rather than a player don’t appreciate when he makes his more than valid point, is what a wonderful footballer he was.
Yes, he was tough and he was hard working but man, could he play too. So when he delivers his rant about wanting it more than the opposition and having the sheer desire to get your toe
to the ball first, he knows what he is talking about.
What I will say, though, is that if you don’t do that it doesn’t mean tactics become redundant, it just means you have to fall back on your out-of-possession strategy to regain the ball or force
an error to get it back.
So, I guess I’m saying everyone was right on this one - and nobody was wrong, either. What is most definitely right, the same in every dressing room the world over, without exception, is
the language used to make sure that before tactics and counter-tactics can be employed, foundations are laid for victory.
There are battles to be won before the war. Games are never won or lost on paper so before they settle down to eventually become football matches, they can be won by physical or
psychological means, working hard and being mentally robust.
You always win the battle first, and then you contest the game later.