You can’t turn it off and on again. Form, I mean. You can’t decide to leave it one afternoon, then come back to it the following week. It’s not tucked up snug and warm inside airtight bubblewrap, waiting to come out when the classy influential guests come a-calling.
Form has a life of its own. You can’t see it but you know it’s there. You can feel it, sometimes believe you can taste it, it’s so much a part of you, you almost don’t have to think about what you’re doing. It has a momentum all to itself, gradually gaining pace and shape like a snowball rolling down a hill.
But never, ever forget. You own it because you made it. All down to you. Your efforts, struggles and talent, mind and body slowly combines to be indistinguishable. Skill plus motivation with a healthy dollop of coaching to provide the organisation to play together, as one, united.
First, you concentrate. Every game, first until last. In the Glory Game, your illustrious predecessors Chivers and Peters talked of coming off the field exhausted and with a splitting headache not so much from the physical exertion but from the mental strain of focussing for each second. One mistake, one mistimed tackle for example, and you are a goal down, punished for your lackadaisical attitude.
Michael Dawson, a mighty warrior for the cause. You are our leader. You should have the honour of wearing the armband on a permanent basis but whatever, we look to you for an example, a leader in a team that’s crying out for leadership on the pitch. That’s why we love you, because you give everything, but you of all people cannot panic. Mistakes we accept, no one is perfect, we are realistic, but panic and that spreads through the team, to each and every one of them. You can’t turn that on and off, even if you would like a weekend’s respite.
I know that sometimes you will give everything and be beaten by a better team. I will be down and disappointed, more than I should be at my age and after all this time, but I will accept it. What I will not accept or comprehend is giving up. After ten minutes. I don’t care if it is the Cup in a world overly obsessed with the Premier League and the Champions League. We paid our money, same as when you could be bothered. We have – had – a great chance of winning that cup. A match for any team in the country, on the day, over 90 minutes. This new Tottenham – they are scared of us, of how we can sweep down upon them from all angles, Bale, Modric, Lennon, Van der Vaart, they fear us. Now they know we will give up, if you give us a little nudge, if things don’t pan out. That’s the message.
Habit. Winning is a habit. Make that, competing is a habit. This weekend I listened all day to the radio as the Cup unfolded. Lower league managers said they instil a winning mentality. Every game, every confrontation in the field, all over the pitch. Win it. Those little skirmishes won, the whole battle follows.
Transfers. In a few hours we’ll know if a judicious purchase or two (striker and defensive midfield, please) will lift us. Daniel Levy is singlehandedly trying to jolt the ailing Spanish economy into life. It could make all the difference but it’s utterly pointless if he joins a team without the mentality to be winners not posers.
Make it happen. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else. Play and others will play with you. Lead and others will follow. You’re all in this together.
Choke. Murray choked. Sent the message reverberating through his world that talent is nothing without the right mindset. Squeeze him and he falls apart. On the radio I heard another warrior, a rugby player this time, saying that as a coach he judges the true mark of a man not by a defeat by how he copes the next time. How he reacts. We’ll see on Wednesday. Most of you probably don’t fancy Blackburn on a chilly Wednesday. Don’t care. Sort out your head or all this talent and potential is out the window. Learn from this or fail.