Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash
Over the past 2 weeks was the round of sixteen of the Champions League (European main soccer competition), where the best out of 2 legs advance to quarter finals (when there is a tie after the 2 legs, the one who has scored more goals away (at the other’s venue) wins). Here is what I noticed when it comes to the mental approach or the Mindset:
- On one hand Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to mental approach. Since Quatar invested massively in this club in 2011, they tried to build a top level club, bringing 5 stars players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham and more recently, Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe. And yet, it doesn’t seem to make any progress in this champions league, never able to go past thee quarter final and eliminated in the round of sixteen in the last 2 editions. 2 main events are symbolic of this lack of mental toughness:
- In the so called “Remontada” in 2017, PSG had won 4-0 against Barcelona in the first leg, and was leading 3-1 after 88min in the 2nd leg despite a feverish way to play. There was no way they could be eliminated since Barcelona needed to win 6-1 to qualify with the “goals away count more” rule. And yet, Barcelona scored three times in the last 7 minutes to get the qualification out of PSG. PSG had gone into the game with fear, backing off instead of playing their game. When fear leads your way to play and you focus more on what you don’t want to happen, it’s actually more likely that it will happen. All had failed, from the coach to the captain and the seasoned players.
- This year, PSG had won 2-0 against Manchester United in the first leg in England, which was a great result considering they were missing 2 of their strikers (Neymar and Cavani). PSG had shown some character in the first round of the competition, being present, focused and competitive in risky situations, which seemed to indicate they had improved on their mental approach. When Manchester came to Paris for the 2nd leg with 10 main players missing due to injuries or suspensions (so with a C team so to speak), PSG had all the cards in their hand to qualify for the quarter final. And once again, they didn’t put the right intention, the physical impact and the required focus that is mandatory at this level. And at 93min, in the overtime, Manchester obtained a penalty and ended winning 3-1, eliminating PSG. When you can’t rub it in, you are putting yourself at risk.
- On the other hand, Ronaldo proved why he was the best player in this competition. Transferred from Real Madrid to Juventus Turin last summer, Ronaldo was criticized for his lack of impact in the beginning of the competition. It got even worse when Juventus was beaten 2-0 by Atletico Madrid in the first leg. But Ronaldo is Ronaldo, like Lebron James in the past years. He was super confident that they were going to win and qualify in the 2nd leg at home. He shared that with other players a week before the 2nd leg and in the media a few days before the game. And he amazingly scored three times in the 2nd leg and qualified Juventus almost on his own. The whole team had a great game of course but he was decisive. Not only does he seem to be pressure proof (I’ll talk more about this in a next post), he seems to find ever more motivation and determination when the stakes are higher.
There is a key difference between how PSG and Ronaldo approached their games. On one hand, there was a lack of clear intention, lack of focus, lack of the needed fire to get things done, lack of commitment. This might have been due to some fear because of what had happened in the past. And this might have been due to over confidence, as PSG has often been accused of in the past years, which is the belief that you will win without needing to give it all (with some sort of arrogance). On the other hand, there was (ultra) confidence that it is possible AND that you will give it all to make it happen. It’s followed by commitment, intention and focus.
Of course, it’s not all about this, of course not everyone has Ronaldo’s talent, but the more you can put yourself into a confident AND committed, intentional, focused mindset before a game, the better your play will be, the more likely things are to turn to your advantage. And this is true to any sport.