Soccology Sunday: Lost Space

Composure is spoken of throughout football and is seen as one of, if not, the only emotional skill that is acknowledged within the game. When composure is mentioned, it’s in reference to being calm and in control of one’s self when in possession of the ball. However, composure in possession can be disturbed by things happening off the field and not from threat of potentially losing possession e.g. I need to impress the manager so that I do not get dropped to the subs bench again.

Composure is about inner peace, while those in the game acknowledge players that may panic when making a decision on the pitch, the game is still blind to those who lose composure because of reasons off the field and experience a lack of composure off the field . Players bang down their manager’s door in search of communication that had been neglected, hand in transfer requests because they feel mistreated and others quietly go about their lives unhappily in a lost space.

In my day we had the “bomb squad”, the bomb squad was a group of players that didn’t make the squad or were not wanted. The players would joke about being in the bomb squad although deep down they were hurt. Players were also “bombed” (demoted), from a team too.

Lost players are not only those who may be deemed not good enough, those seen as the cream of the crop also find themselves lost with no navigation as they get promoted through the youth team ranks to the first team, only to be relegated back to the U23/youth team. Playing well and getting demoted is a career knocking blow to take and managing the situation is tough, especially with no one to talk to. Parents, agents and staff will provide surface level lip service “get your head down and show you deserve to be there” but that doesn’t help what the player’s going through in the present moment.

Some of the old school will label the new school as soft and that they should get on with it like players did back in the day but players have a relationship with football and just like your spouse, if they mistreat you it breaks your heart. The old school went through this too, the difference was that they had no choice and no one would entertain the conversation. This is one of the few reasons why many players disappear, drink alcohol excessively, go partying and have affairs. These erratic behaviours are examples of how they lost composure, behaviour we don’t want the current or future generations to repeat.   The erratic behaviour created a more interesting scene for people to focus on while they pretended their reality didn’t exist/distract themselves from it. The past isnt glossy at all.

“It’s really difficult mentally, there’s only so long you just enjoy training with top players.” – Ruben Loftus-CheekChelsea FC & England International

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a player that finds himself in a lost space, from the outside people see the privilege of playing for Chelsea and earning a good wage but for the player, it’s about playing. Playing every week, winning accolades and trophies, retiring with psychological showreel to be proud of. Ruben has recently experienced what I call the “loan high”, it has been ruining relationships within clubs for decades. It’s when players go on loan and their motivation gets upgraded. They experience pressure, intensity, extra attention and energy of from the fans that reserve games cannot give. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is one of the latest players to experience the loan high, an extreme high as he did well and earned a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

How can clubs help players navigate out of this space?

Communication and Honesty – Telling the player why they have been demoted, they may not agree or be happy with the decision but they will appreciate the honesty.

Fair – It’s fine to have that sweatshirt in the wardrobe that you’re not going to wear, yet you want to keep it but players are different. If they are not in your plans let them go. Emotionally players can coach themselves out of the space of being lost or receive assistance but not being able to physically exit can be tough.

Prehab – Education is key, the above two points are from the perspective of the coach/manager however, I believe in empowerment and players must be told about these scenarios once they become full time and given a space to play around with scenarios. When situations arise that become emotionally challenging, they will be better equipped to deal with them, otherwise their heart, performances and the clubs commodity goes down the drain. Everybody loses.