It can take more than just a sweary speech to motivate a football team | Max Rushden


What exactly do elite sports people need five minutes before kick-off? Tactical insight? Life-affirming motivation? Or just a bit of swearing? One of the highlights of the All or Nothing Tottenham documentary – aside from Danny Rose’s “any news from Milan?” – is getting to see those vital final words delivered to the troops before walking out for battle.

One of the first times we see it Harry Kane takes the lead before a must-win Champions League game against Olympiakos. The huddle goes on for ever – a purple Lycra ring of Saturn. Starting XI, substitutes, coaches, injured players, physios, kit men, perhaps press officers, translators, Jill from the canteen.

“At the moment they have a little bit of hope, they have a little bit of hope to qualify, we kill that minute one, we press, we aggressive, fucking chances, goals, and we fucking kill ’em man, we fucking qualify today lads, we fucking qualify.” The supporting cast cheer wildly and Spurs are 2-0 down after 19 minutes.

Kane has another go before the Premier League game against Chelsea. “All right lads we know how much this game means with Christmas, three points, top four and it’s a fucking London derby so let’s fucking win this game.” Spurs lose 2-0.

Kane is much more of a potty mouth than I expected. And what exactly does Christmas have to do with it? You are left wondering: “Is that it?”

Burnley at home. José Mourinho decides to give it whirl: “In two hours we are six points from the Champions League position, you are two hours away from your dinner and you have a day off tomorrow. Fucking hell we don’t need more motivation to win this game than this altogether. Come on then. Come on.”

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Two hours from dinner? Is that what will persuade Toby Alderweireld to put his head in between Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood? Just how good is the Spurs canteen? Clearly Son Heung-min is really hungry as he sprints past every claret shirt to score the goal of the season.

Jose Mourinho talks to his team during a drinks break against Crystal Palace at the tail end of last season.



Jose Mourinho talks to his team during a drinks break against Crystal Palace at the tail end of last season. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

The best orator in the Spurs dressing room is Hugo Lloris. He doesn’t say anything interesting. But he proves it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. A punctuation-less stream of consciousness.

Norwich at home: “Eh come on uh guys let’s do the job aggressive from the start 90-95 minutes it’s on our minds NOW FOCUS HUH COME ON LET’S GO!”

Villa away: “Eh come on guys huh it’s a big game for us huh we need to feel it from the start guys huh it’s going to be a BIG BATTLE HEY LET’S WIN THIS GAME COME ON!”

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The volume and speed of delivery increases with every word. You can feel the urgency. The font should get bigger to help it come across on the page. And perhaps that’s all players need.

Maybe we have been spoiled by Hollywood and Scottish rugby coaches in charge of the Lions. You can’t be Al Pacino doing Any Given Sunday at home against Burnley. What happens if you’ve got Liverpool next week? You can’t be Jim Telfer saying “this is your Everest” when you’re away at Villa. That’s not even your Ben Nevis.

Harry, José and Hugo’s delivery, however, is in a different league to the hundreds of terrible team talks I’ve given in an increasingly amateur football career. I have often wondered if I could be Al Pacino, and if that would make any difference – but I can’t practise in front of the mirror, or take notes – this is Southern Amateur League Intermediate Division Three.

“You find out that life is just a game of inches.” says Pacino calmly. “When we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the fucking difference between WINNING and LOSING, between LIVING and DYING. I’ll tell you this in any fight, it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.”

I’m certainly not willing to die for Broomfield away. We’ve booked a verandah in a pub to watch Liverpool v Leeds and Mrs Rushden’s cooked a spanakopita.

A cursory YouTube adventure into the genre reveals endless Pacinos delivering word-perfect monologues from all levels of American football. They are so stirring that they make you think you could do a decent job at linebacker for the Detroit Lions.

Take the Super Bowl winner Ray Lewis, a man with a questionable past but who can certainly conjure up an evocative line. In 2012 he delivered a college football speech worthy of Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood. Read it like you are in a movie. Take your time. Imagine a scrum of shoulder pads and helmets facing you.

“Let me tell you something, if tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today? Forget everything else. Forget everything else. Forget that there was any sunlight left. What would you spend today thinking about? Yourself? Or the man that’s beside you.

“We get one opportunity at life. One chance at life to do whatever you gonna do. To lay your foundation and make whatever mark you’re going to make. Whatever legacy you gonna leave. Leave your legacy! And it’s found through effort. Wins and losses come a dime a dozen. But effort? Nobody can judge effort ’cause effort is between you and you. Effort ain’t got nothin’ to do with anybody else.

“Because I’m pissed off for greatness. Because if you ain’t pissed off for greatness, that mean you OK with being mediocre. Ain’t no man in here OK with being just basic. So let’s do what we do.”

I had a choice on Saturday afternoon in Palmers Green as the ref indicated a minute until kick-off: “If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?” Or the Spurs version: ’Fucking hell lads let’s get into them.” I went for the latter. It was enough for a draw. Perhaps If I’d mentioned dinner we would have got three points.



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