Harry Kane said an interesting thing last week. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, which largely only served to emphasise what a wonderfully likeable player and man Kane is, with the sheer enthusiasm at being the centre-forward for his home team shining through, he said this:
“(Jermain) Defoe told me once ‘if I miss a chance then the odds are now in my favour to score the next one because the chances of missing two in a row are less than missing one’. And that’s what I try and take. If I miss, then the next one is more in my favour to score. It’s about little things like that.”
Now of course we could talk for a long time about exactly how big a slice of nonsense this is. How Defoe perhaps isn’t exactly a student of mathematics and probability. How, following this logic, Kane should get the ball from kick off and hoof the thing miles over the bar, because this would apparently improve his chances of scoring later in the game. And how Kane might well have got a membership card through the post from some opportunistic casino owners licking their lips at a potential mark.
Logically, Kane’s credo is of course bullshit of the first order, but the point is that it doesn’t matter even the tiniest little jot whether, to us lot, the snarks of the internet, think it’s a nonsense. The idea is not true, but it serves a purpose, and therefore its veracity or otherwise is irrelevant.
Most of football, and indeed sport, is a game played in the head, an established concept that you all know, so we need not go into it too much here. Unless they have an absolutely airtight iron will and confidence that cannot be broken, footballers therefore have to ensure they go into every game with the requisite amount of self-belief to do their job in front of 40,000 or so people.
This can be done through assorted methods, perhaps from the support of the crowd, encouragement from teammates, a pep-talk by their manager, maybe from a particularly sweetly-struck shot or pass, or even just from a good performance in training one day. Another method is to basically trick themselves into confidence, to use something to push away any doubts they might have and ensure they go into every game with as few mental demons nagging away at them.
That’s basically what Defoe and Kane are doing here. If a striker, no matter their reputation or track record, fluffs an easy chance early on in the game, then it will inevitably have an impact on their confidence, and that might be a problem the next time they are in front of goal. Defoe’s illogical theory simply tries to eliminate or at least minimise those doubts. It’s turning what could be a negative into a positive. It makes no sense to you or I, but it might do to the only person it’s relevant to.
It might seem a very obvious thing to say, but the psychology ?of those inside the game is completely different to the rest of us. Footballers care about, and react to, very different things. Sometimes, they could respond to outright lies.
This sort of thing happens all the time in football, too. Jose Mourinho would always make a point of altering his choice of the world’s finest player, depending on which club he was in charge of. First it was Frank Lampard, then Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then Cristiano Ronaldo, and now he talks up Eden Hazard. Lampard told the story of how he expressed that view back in 2009:
“I have never had a manager who, while I’m standing in the shower cleaning my balls, tells me I’m the best player in the world. He did that. I’ll never forget it. So casual. “You’re the best player in the world, but you need to win titles”. From that moment the extra confidence was in me. Not that I thought I was the best player in the world, but the manager who had just won the Champions League thought it. So I went out a different player.”
You might call it basic man-management, you might call it ego-stroking, you might call it plain old lying, but the point is that it doesn’t really make the least bit of difference what you call it, because it only matters to the players on the pitch. This column touched on a similar subject a few weeks ago, and the same thing applies here.
To play armchair psychologist for a short while, most performers are made of a heady mixture of external confidence and fragile egos – actors, musicians, comedians (especially comedians), and of course footballers. The trick is to make sure there’s enough confidence to counteract the fragility of the ego.
And to do that…well, whatever works, no matter how nonsensical it actually is. Where football is concerned, honesty is not always the best policy.