On 31st Match 2018, Brighton lost 2-0. Losing to a Leicester City team that includes some of the best players in the league and that won the league title two years ago. Yet if you’d read some of the views on social media from Brighton fans after the game you could have believed the Albion had lost 6-0 to Mansfield! In response I write this:
Learning how to lose and dealing with defeat can be nearly as important as winning itself. You only need to look at Chelsea and the contrast of the 2014/15 season and the 2015/16 season to see that losing can build up as much physiological momentum as winning can.
In both seasons Chelsea had very similar personnel that were playing a very similar tactical system, but clearly had very different mental attitudes leading to contrasting outcomes. The perspective of a teams performance can change on the basis of small marginal moments and seemingly trivial decisions leading to a huge swing in fortunes. This is particularly true for a low scoring game like football, where one moment during a 90 minute game can be decisive and can potentially make vast amounts of time spent during the game of utter irrelevance to the scoreline.
The Chelsea team of 14/15 weren’t losers and didn’t need to know how to lose when they comfortably won the title. Though that changed in 15/16; after the fiasco of the 2-2 draw at home to Swansea and the row that ensued between Mourinho and Dr Carneiro, suddenly nothing seemed to be going right for Chelsea leading to a calamitous and awful season.
The focus then became based on the negative rather than being based on the positive the season before. The logical reality for both seasons is probably somewhere in the middle however, but outlook changes everything and is often led by emotion rather than logic. A change in outlook can lead to a self doubt and anxiety that then leads to hesitation and poor decision making. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Football fans often demonstrate this with their reactionary opinions after a good or bad result. If enough people express an opinion on Twitter it appears to then become fact in some circles and I have no doubt that this can affect an individuals mentality and in turn their performance.
Football is won and lost on small margins. On Saturday if Glenn Murray had scored the penalty he missed and The Albion defence had stayed firm and kept out Leicester’s first goal scored only a few minutes later, the outlook for both teams then changes vastly. A result ultimately based on a handful of decisions in a game of thousands. But not just the outlook on that game changes but the outlook on the whole season too. These small moments can become of far greater significance than they should and (an albeit understandable) overly emotive response can lead to a very different outlook on circumstances than they did prior to the game.
If a change in mentality effects a persons decision making, even marginally, then drastic changes in outcome no doubt follow. Humans are complex individuals, and modern football clubs are large complex organisations full of complex individuals. Football managers like Mourinho and Hughton have the difficult job of managing every single individual psychologically as well as just picking the best 11 players that fit within their desired tactical system.
On top of this they are also expected to manage the expectations of the fans through the media and again if you read some comments on social media throughout the season you’d see that many Brighton fans had consigned the club to relegation on multiple occasions already. And some would have had Hughton sacked after almost every defeat if they had the chance. Thankfully Chris and the team have a level of composure and focus that sets them apart from the average fan.
Hughton does appear to have built a side with a great deal of mental strength and focus. Many teams and many individuals within it would have been destroyed by the type of disappointment The Albion experienced at the end of the 15/16 season. A draw on the final day to Middlesbrough would cost the Albion automatic promotion to the top flight on goal difference and this was closely followed by defeat in the playoff semi final to Sheffield Wednesday.
Hughton and his team picked themselves up and quickly regained focus, demonstrated in the first game of the following season with a 4-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. They then went on to win automatic promotion that season at the first time of asking following the disappointment of the previous season.
Hughton himself has had personal disappointment to deal with as well. As manager of Newcastle he did a good job, leading the club to promotion to the top flight only to be sacked soon after the club got there.
And In hindsight Hughton’s pragmatism whilst manager at Norwich appears to have been undervalued and written off as an overly defensive approach. But after each disappointment, Chris, like The Albion at the beginning of last season, was able to show great mental strength and regain focus on the new task ahead.
We now know so much more about the Human mind than ever before and managers need to ensure they utilise this knowledge in order to keep their team and their club as a whole from mentally collapsing just like Chelsea did during the 15/16 season. With 7 games to go and 21 points still to play for, it’s crucial for Brighton to stay mentally strong and focused to ensure that survival in the top flight is achieved.
Given Chris Hughton’s track record and the overwhelming evidence of his impressive character, I trust him to deal with the Leicester defeat with his usual composure and treat each individual with the necessary consideration required.
In the words of William James “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”