Are you A Winner? Do you have A Winning Mentality?
Pochettino isn’t A Winner, someone on Twitter told me last week, but apparently his replacement is. So that’s alright, then. Get A Winner in, sit back and start winning. That’s the way it goes.
We hear this sort of talk all the time. Someone is A Winner and someone else isn’t, as though it’s an innate and indelible and unchangeable part of their character.
The Winner arrives, casts his winning gold-dust on the mere mortals and in some sort of footballing transubstantiation, turns them all into winners too.
Something to admire in Daniel Levy reacting to players being unhappy with a coach by appointing one who will probably make them even unhappier. But Mourinho is a winner and if he makes Spurs tougher and harder, job done.
— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) November 20, 2019
The notion in football and indeed in life that there are these mythical beasts called Winners who have a Winning Mentality, is commonplace. Fans, managers and players all refer to it. At its root is an idea that there is something to a person’s character that drives them on that is way beyond typical. Something special you cannot learn or absorb through cultural osmosis or training. Something blessed from on high, or released via a few specific spirals of DNA.
But when we stop to scrutinise the concept, it falls apart or simply tells us nothing beyond a literal truth that someone has won something and to do that, they were in possession of some sort of mental state which can thus be literally called a Winner’s Mentality.
As I pointed out to this chap on Twitter, by his qualification Pochettino was a loser but Juande Ramos – who won a League Cup with Spurs – was a winner and thus superior.
But Ramos is still out there, currently as coach of Malaga and since the 2006-07 League Cup win, Magic Juande has not won anything else. But how can this be? Where did the Winning Mentality of this Winner go? The answer is, nowhere. It went nowhere because it never existed.
If being A Winner was an actual thing, the Winner wouldn’t lose, would they? Not just wouldn’t, but couldn’t. Or certainly not so badly as former Leicester City title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri did at Fulham with his measly 17% win ratio. And being A Winner means you win, right? It can’t be a fleeting thing. You’re either made of the right stuff or you are not, because being A Winner has to be an absolutist concept to exist at all. If it isn’t, it’s just being human; sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes OK, sometimes rotten, just like everyone else. Not special.
So given that The Winner and The Winning Mentality absolutely doesn’t and cannot exist as some sort of inviolate nature-gifted characteristic, why is it such a popular idea? We hear it all the time. “He’s a winner, isn’t he?” offered as an explanation as to why a manager or player is so good, so it must be something the human psyche needs to assign. It goes beyond someone just having football skills.
Mourinho is an actor. Polished. He knows what needs to be said & when it needs to be said. He’s pragmatic. He’s analytical. He’s a nightmare. He’s tetchy. He’s arrogant. He’s also a proven winner. A fighter. A baller. He needs to be given a chance. He’s #COYS like it or not. pic.twitter.com/yBy2LS2kHX
— David Ellis (@fullback03) November 22, 2019
Thousands of self-help books and even more blogs have been written about how to develop a Winning Mentality as though it is an actual thing. By and large, they all say the same things, such as be positive, believe in yourself, picture your goals, set high standards and surround yourself with people who want to win. All the sorts of things that many people do, who do not win things and are not called winners. Indeed, even purveyors of the concept quickly accept these are things you can do to give yourself a chance to become a winner, however you might conceive of such a thing, which is to admit it’s not real, of course.
We all have a wide range of things which do and don’t motivate us, as a result of our upbringing or life experience to this point. For example, I can think of nothing worse than being surrounded by men who want to win, because my experience is that they tend to be absolutely insufferable types, with values distant from my own, in the same way the idea of being around men who love ‘the banter’ fills me with dread. But it works for others.
There’s an assumption that there is a hard and fast definition as to what you being A Winner with your Winning Mentality might mean. My Twitter fella thought it was to do with winning a trophy. That’s the obvious thing in football. But isn’t, say, Sheffield United getting promoted last year, winning? They didn’t win a trophy. They came second. That means you can’t call Chris Wilder A Winner any more than you can call Pochettino A Winner. That seems very odd. And it seems odd because being A Winner is a failed concept which collapses when challenged. We need to let it go. It’s worthless and at times, oppressive.
To undermine it further, the world of sport, business and pretty much everything else, is littered with people who got to the top and then wondered what it was all for. People who arrived at their lofty peak, looked around and said “Is that all there is?” So even if you’re A Winner, are you really? Football and life doesn’t easily surrender to what initially seem to be obvious definitions.
Winning games, winning cups, or winning titles is achieved in many different ways, by many different people, with many different characters, in many different circumstances and with many different resources. Trying to shape so many variables into a single concept to explain why, is like trying to catch a rainbow in a jar.
All of which leads me to believe that it is the mentality which accepts that winning isn’t everything and that there is no such thing as a winning mentality which is the actual winning mentality.
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