Keeping rich and successful players motivated is a challenge that many of the best managers in the world have struggled with. Nagoya Grampus’ Dragan Stojkovic – frequently linked with the Japanese national team job, and even succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal – will need to earn his stripes this season, with several of his players seemingly living off past glories…
Last week I wrote about the positive improvement in the mental attitude of Atsuto Uchida over the past12 months.
While Ucchi and several of his Samurai Blue teammates continue to grow overseas though there is something of a problem back home in the J.League
After seven rounds of matches (although they do have one game in hand) Nagoya Grampus – such a force last season and champions by a margin of 10 points – sat level with Ventforet Kofu in the league; already themselves 10 points behind the league-leaders Kashiwa Reysol.
Of course, it is still very early in the season and there is plenty of time for them to pick up and for the early pacesetters to fall away.
However, they have three problems which need to be overcome quickly if they are to replicate their fantastic achievement of 2010.
The first of these problems is not mental it is actual; the number of injuries in the squad.
Pixy insists that the team’s training methods have not changed and so there is, in truth, not so much that can be done to remedy the situation except for making sure that players are not rushed back and that when they are all fit the squad is rotated sensibly and everyone is kept as fresh as possible.
In the meantime the coach has to earn his yen by getting the best out of the players at his disposal.
The second issue – and one which seems to have affected Kashima and Cerezo as well, although interestingly not Gamba – is the ACL and ‘tiredness’.
Now, I’m sorry, I know that travelling can have an affect on physical condition but considering the break that the J.League took and the fact that they have rarely had to play two games a week this season I am not buying this excuse.
Instead of being physically drained I would suggest that some, not all, of the players have mentally convinced themselves that they are tired.
Going into a game in Kofu less than four days after playing in UAE, for instance, sounds tough doesn’t it? And, to an extent it is.
If you keep telling yourself it is then you go into the game with a weight on your shoulders, though. If you put such thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on the game at hand it is unlikely you will struggle so much.
Pixy expressed similar concerns over the psychological approach of his players, dismissing the impact of the continental competition on his side’s defeat to Kofu and challenging his players to rise above such excuses.
“I’m sorry, but this is not an excuse. As a professional you need give your best for 90 minutes. Tired or not tired, hot or not hot. You have to prepare yourself; you are a professional, you have to give your best.”
And ‘giving your best’ brings us onto the final, and most worrying, concern.
Grampus’ success last season was built upon a tremendous togetherness and a work-ethic and defiance that drove them on to become champions.
That grit is lacking this season, and Pixy has hinted at fears that some members of the squad are merely coasting.
“My players, they have to forget everything that happened last year if they want to make a good result this year. They have to forget absolutely everything from last year,” he emphasized. “We are champions, but we are champions of 2010, not 2011.”
“This is a completely different story, a completely different championship, so only if we think like that can we can expect a good result. If we, or some of them, are satisfied with the result from last year then it will be very, very hard.”
One of the best in the world at motivating successful players is Sir Alex Ferguson, about whom David Beckham once said the following.
“The good thing about [Sir Alex is that] he makes you move on. As soon as you have won a medal he does not stop there, he makes you want more.”
Ensuring such a response is something that the coach must bring about, then, and if Pixy’s players do not have that drive themselves it is something he must instill in them as quickly as possible.