Rediscovering the spark
The halfway point in a season is the stage at which players, coaches and fans alike start to take serious notice of their league table, and those the bottom realise that it’s time to do something about it.
However, whatever the stage in the calendar, the task of motivating teams into rediscovering their form has prompted many and varied responses from coaches across the world. Some have ensured performances don’t drop with the threat of punishment or a forfeit, to disciplining them for their lack of results – and some of their methods can be somewhat surprising.
Following their recent 5-0 defeat to Kaiserslautern, Felix Magath of Schalke felt it necessary to reinvigorate the Bundesliga runners-up in response to a shocking run saw them languishing just three points clear of the foot of the table ahead of the visit of Bayern Munich. As well as cutting the players’ Christmas celebrations to five days and extending their winter training camp by a week, the championship-winning coach felt his side were too pampered. So he forced them to train on a snow covered pitch without hats, gloves, tights or – football’s latest must-have accessory – snoods. They reacted by beating the reigning champions 2-0 and have won their following four games, their best run of the season.
Magath is not the only coach to have taken this kind of approach in punishing poor performances. Harry Redknapp, for example, has cancelled Christmas on no fewer than two occasions during his time in the Premier League. The first came back in 2003 while managing Portsmouth, after they lost 3-0 to local rivals Southampton, when he declared that the team would train on Christmas Day and that he “wouldn’t even eat his Christmas dinner”.
He repeated the act last season with Tottenham Hotspur challenging for a UEFA Champions League spot. Portsmouth reacted to Redknapp’s harsh methods by finishing 13th in their season first since winning promotion to the Premier League, while Spurs clinched a place in the top four and qualified for Europe’s premier club competition.
Guy Roux, during some of the later years of his four-plus decades at Auxerre, took a similar attitude towards partying and its adverse impact on results. However the legendary French coach was so willing to ensure his players avoided the bright lights of nearby Paris he went to extraordinary lengths. Firstly he recorded their odometer reading every day, looking out for any 400km additions, secondly he recruited toll-booth workers to look out for them making the trip, and then he even padlocked Basile Boli’s motorbike to keep him at home.
Barcelona’s coach Pep Guardiola has taken an altogether more wholesome approach to promoting victory – by playing motivational videos to his team before games. Ahead of the 2009 UEFA Champions League final he showed a compilation of his players’ best performances, inspiring them to a 2-0 victory over Manchester United. However, all these examples pale in comparison to some of the less conventional methods used by some coaches.
Probably the most outlandish came from now defunct English side Wimbledon, known as ‘the Crazy Gang’ for their pranks off the pitch. During the 1998/99 Premier League season, it was written in to the players’ contracts by chairman Sam Hammam that, should they lose a game by five goals or more, they would have to endure a trip to the opera and eat a plate of sheep offal.
Captain at the time, Robbie Earle said: "If we lose by five clear goals, Sam can make us eat a meal which has to include sheep's testicles and all sorts of brains, intestines and horrible-sounding stuff." They almost had to as well, losing 5-1 to Arsenal in April 1999, with Carl Cort’s 70th-minute goal – when already 5-0 down – all that saved their stomachs.
However, another way of inspiring a team is by putting the boot on the other foot, with ex-Wimbledon man Dean Holdsworth persuading Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside and manager Sam Allardyce to put themselves in the firing line. They agreed that should newly-promoted Bolton win a match 3-0, Gartside would have to eat the customary plate of sheep’s testicles, while Allardyce would have to walk around the town centre dressed as a clown. They promptly won their first game of the season against Leicester City 5-0.
Carlos Tevez was also threatened with a similar sort of punishment, although he may argue it was much worse. After showing his dissatisfaction at being substituted during his time at West Ham United, he was - as well as donating £1000 to charity - asked to wear a Brazil shirt during training.
However the Argentinian international and Olympic Gold medal-winning striker couldn’t bring himself to wear the kit of his nation’s bitterest enemies. He said: “I just couldn’t train in a Brazil shirt, I wouldn’t do it. It was like asking an Englishman to wear a German kit, he’d never do that. I’m happy to be making a big donation to charity but it’s just too much to wear the strip of my country’s biggest rivals. I played in Brazil for Corinthians and enjoyed my time there, but I couldn’t be seen wearing their national shirt.”
A footballer’s stereotypical love of cars has been targeted too. Both Portsmouth and Leeds have forced underperforming players to ditch their high-powered sports cars and spend the week driving a three-wheeled Reliant Robin instead. The Portsmouth model even came with an added loud-speaker which played farm animal noises whenever it was started, just to make sure the players were noticed.