Written by Total Arsenal
“When you think of your wife that she is pretty, she becomes pretty – if you think she is not pretty she slowly loses confidence and becomes not pretty. It is the same for players: you have to believe in them, that makes them feel that they have a certain strength”.
Arsene Wenger (when talking about discovering Vieira on the DVD ‘Arsene’s 11).
Seldom have I seen a football player like Abou Diaby. On the one hand he oozes class and potential, a beautiful athlete: a modern day gladiator. On the other hand he seems to struggle badly at times with being able to focus on the field, and achieving consistency in his performance. In every game he has a spell of being the destroyer: great tackles, followed by powerful, mazy runs, precision passes, regular assists and a great goal now and again.
Just have a look at this again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOs2Gf0rhd8
Unfortunately, often he also has spells in which he seems to switch off, becoming almost dopey, uninterested and sloppy; without much focus or energy.
I am saying here, he seems to switch off and lack focus and energy at times, because of course I do not know him: I have never spoken to him, and I have never spoken to anybody who knows him. I am only drawing conclusions from what I can see on the TV screen and during the occasionally game in a stadium. Yet, it is so easy to judge and label a player from the comfort of a seat at home, or at a football ground, without questioning our own motives and attitudes towards other people.
Are you a ‘Theory X’ or a ‘Theory Y’ Gooner?
For me one of the most useful classic theories in (People) Management is ‘Theory X and Theory Y’ developed by Douglas McGregor. They describe two different attitudes towards workforce motivation, which can easily be applied to football as well.
The Theory X manager assumes employees (footballers) are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can, and that they inherently dislike work. Usually these managers feel the sole purpose of the employee’s (footballer’s) interest in the job is money.
A Theory Y manager believes that, given the right conditions, most employees (footballers) will want to do well ‘at work’. They believe that the satisfaction of doing a good job is a strong motivator in the workplace, and that employees (footballers) are not primarily motivated by money.
This is a simple theory and has its critics, but I have found it very helpful in dealing with people and fellow football fans alike. Seldom have I encountered a pure X-er or a pure Y-er, but people tend to polarize towards either X, or Y on a 80/20 basis. ‘Pure’X-fans tend to quickly jump on players, say that they are lazy, money-grabbing bastards, their attitude stinks, and as a result they will quickly show their dissatisfaction towards any player who falls into this category. ‘Pure’ Y-fans on the other hand, tend to give players who underperform the benefit of the doubt, believe that external circumstances rather than motivational issues are the cause of a player not living up to expectations. They are very unlikely to taunt a player and would always look for ways to remain positive and supportive.
Diaby: bad attitude or lack of confidence/focus?
The ability to focus and concentrate, and to get the very best out of yourself is a special quality. It is not automatically there in every player and it is also not simply a matter of choice by a player. Some players have focus and concentration in abundance: Flamini, Keown, Fabregas, Wilshere, Sagna, RvP for example. Other players seem to struggle with it at times: Arshavin, Clichy, Almunia and Diaby come to mind.
Yet, what really bugs me is how easy we, the fans, mix up an apparent sporadic inability to concentrate and focus and/or a lack of confidence by a player, with a perceived bad attitude of that player. We come to the conclusion so quickly that some players are only in it for the money, that they do not care about Arsenal, are lazy and that they are letting us all down. Worryingly, we are seeing now a growing trend where fans are expressing these views venomously during home games and on the blogs. By doing this, there is a big risk of a vicious circle being created for players like Diaby:
- An occasional lack of focus and concentration;
- Is followed by moans and groans by the fans during games as well as complaints etc on websites after games, which then the press is very happy to pick up on, and magnify as much as they like;
- Which easily leads to a further reduction in self-confidence by the player who is targeted;
- With the likely outcome of even more mistakes/ underperformances, leading to even more and louder jeers and taunts; etc, etc.
If a player truly is lazy and does not give his all for the club, he should be treated with the disdain he deserves.
But, I am going to put my neck out here by saying that we do not have these sorts of players. Wenger would not let them wear the shirt. Players like Abou Diaby need our trust, need us to believe in them and support them, and give them the benefit of doubt when things go wrong occasionally. Of course all players need this, but some need it more than others. Only then will we avoid seeing Abou retreating in his shell again; only then will we see an improvement in focus, concentration and performances; only then will we more regularly witness the Destroyer that Diaby has within him; only then will we see his full potential come through. We, the fans, have a huge responsibility to help and support our players to become the gladiators they have within them, rather than let them crumble in front of 60.000 fans.
In order to do that, we have to question our own attitudes and motives a bit more: suppress the X-type tendencies as much as possible, and allow the Y-type characteristics in us to come to the fore.