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Football is full of abstract notions. Young players have 'potential', established performers have 'star quality' (thus avoiding any actual examination as to their specific talents), and players are told to have 'respect', a concept which seems to have an altered meaning from the one we traditionally understand. These terms are used as something of a semantic blanket, allowing us to avoid any explanation of what may be a complex situation.
'Complacency' is a prime example of such an abstract concept. Teams must guard against it and managers warn of it or ward it off. It is a disease that significantly undermines the performance of a team that has achieved success, and this season has seen an epidemic. Last season's winners of Europe's top three leagues (Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid) currently sit a combined 43 points of top spot in their respective divisions. The previous winners are back, and after short-term success the status quo has seemingly been restored. Complacentitis has struck again, we can only assume.
After Manchester City's defeat to Southampton last weekend, the Guardian's headline read: "Roberto Mancini accuses Manchester City players of complacency". The abstract nature of the term is confirmed by the fact that the Italian never even mentioned the word: "Probably we think because we won last year we are top players, but to stay at the top you need to work like we did last year," was his actual quote.
Therefore when we talk of complacency, we are effectively referring to a lack of professionalism. After success, players have begun to believe their own hype, resting on their laurels. They perhaps believe that continued glory will come at an easier physical price, or simply don't rank the attainment of this glory as high as they previously did.
In many ways this is understandable. Human nature dictates that an intense desire will be generated for something that has never been gained, and this yearning decreases when this achievement has been met; it is harder to psych yourself for the second battle, or the first cut is the deepest, as wrinkly rockers sing. Despite the fact that players are given huge sums of money to do their job, it is difficult to criticise them for what is presumably a subconscious act. If you accused Joe Hart, David Silva or Yaya Toure of taking their foot off the gas they would understandably be offended (and almost certainly mutter something about 110%).
For me, there are two distinct characteristics that define managerial aptitude. The first is responding to adversity, something Manchester United have done impressively this season. However, United have just four more points. They have scored one less goal and conceded five more. The principle shift has been the stalling of City rather than the acceleration of their rivals.
The second attribute is managing this notion of complacency. Part of this is the refreshment of the playing squad, something at which Roberto Mancini has been below par. I accept that the Italian may not be the sole decision-maker on transfers at Eastlands, but his comments after Saturday's game were revealing: "When you win a title, you need to improve the team. We did not. This is a problem." As Nick Miller mentioned during the week, £23million (Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell and Maicon) on eight league starts hints that the blame may lay somewhat at the manager's feet.
However, the vital tool in eradicating complacency is psychological strength. It is the constant demand for self-improvement from players, the continuous belief that a manager wants to make you a better player (and often a better person). It is the fear that you are letting yourself, the manager, the club and the fans down should you fail to play to your maximum, and the real fear that you will be cast adrift should this maximum consistently fail to be met. Most pertinently, it is the re-creation of hunger and desire on an almost constant loop. One league title means nothing without a second, and a second means little without a third. This is where Alex Ferguson excels, and is why United have retained the Premier League title on six occasions.
Mancini is not there yet. Rather than blaming players publicly for their complacency, the Italian must instead examine the reasons as to why the intensity and performance dropped notably after achievement. As ever, prevention is far easier than cure.
This is crucial in ensuring that teams can remain at the top of their game and at the top of the league not merely for weeks or months, but for years. Chelsea struggled to do it (despite Roman Abramovich's huge investment), Arsenal struggled to do it (they have never retained the Premier League title) and now Manchester City are struggling to do it.
Perhaps it is this management of complacency that separates the good from the great, and short-term success from a dynasty.
Remind Daniel Storey not to get complacent on Twitter
@redbornandbred...for future reference, it's usual on here that a post will only appear the next day, if it's posted outside office hours (whatever they might be). There are exceptions, but usually that is the case.- bernsteinforpm