In this week’s moody NYC Footy vid, there is a moment where I point out that I had a bad first half in goal for my side. To say I had a bad game was an understatement. And the attempt I made in the video to add some levity to my abject performance was nothing other than a desperate attempt on my part to mask what was horrifying internal embarrassment and crushed confidence.
Now I will admit, the game was the first proper game I have played in goal for almost two decades. As a kid, and up to about the age of 14, I played in goal regularly. I was a pretty good keeper, always picked for my local team, and also playing regularly for my school in Gaelic football (a kind of soccer / rugby hybrid sport).
My school got all the way to the Gaelic cup final which took place in Croke Park - the most famous and historic stadium in Ireland. Even though we lost that final, it didn’t stop The Irish Times from writing - Only a fine goal keeping display from Stephen O’Regan prevented the winners from scoring more.
Considering how long its been since I put on the gloves, perhaps I could be forgiven for having to dust off some cobwebs. Perhaps I was naive to think that I could simply turn back time and expect to be the agile shot stopper I once was. Regardless the excuses I or anyone else could have, the embarrassment and humiliation I was feeling was real.
The bad vibes creeped in early. An inoffensive ball was floated into the box. It was a simple catch by anyone's standards. But as I looked up at it, terror overcame me. What if I don’t catch this? Don’t mess this up whatever you do.
Suffice to say, I completely misjudged the flight of the ball, taking my eye off it as the panic overcame me. Instead of falling into my hands, it fell into the goal, with my hands flapping pathetically. When you make a mistake like that there really is no one else you can look at but yourself.
Sometime later a similar ball was floated in. This was one of those that had the potential to just go wide, or over the bar. A braver and more confident keeper in that moment would have not taken that chance and simply caught it. Instead I watched the ball as it got closer and closer to the goal in the hope that it would miss the target. But no. To my skin crawling embarrassment the ball hit the bar, bounced back and hit my arm and went in. And this was just as a bunch of NYC Footiers passed by the goal in the background.
I made about 3 or 4 other glaring mistakes in the first half alone. I have no idea what my team must have been thinking.
But how does a keeper or any player for that matter recover from an embarrassing moment? The super elite have such intense focus and determination to be the best that they simply manage to dust themselves off and even come back with renewed vigor. Ronaldo, Messi, and even David Beckham have had very high profile bad moments but they all came back fast and strong. Those type of players are in the minority though. Confidence can be shattered easily even at the top level, and it is incredibly hard for most to come back from that.
In the last few years, I have found that goalkeepers’ confidence to be more brittle than I remembered as a kid. David De Gea at Manchester United, for example, has been the best United player of the past 5 seasons. But in the past few months he no longer has seemed as reliable as he once was. When he concedes a goal he may previously have saved he now has a look of bafflement. So much of goalkeeping is instinctive. You just react and save. But when something in that instinct goes and you end up letting in that goal at the near post, you just wonder, What did I do differently there than what I usually do? You begin to second guess yourself.
Look at Liverpool. They have been blighted by shaky keepers for years. When they made the Champions League Final a couple of years ago - the grandest stage of them all, Liverpool keeper, Loris Karius, was already walking on ice with Liverpool fans. The fans knew he was capable of mistakes. His confidence I would suspect was already delicate. But nobody could have expected the mistakes he made in the final which gifted the trophy to Real Madrid.
The mistakes were too much for Liverpool to accept and soon after, The Redmen broke the bank for a new keeper. It has been a very public ordeal for poor Loris Karius and one which he will be reminded of for the rest of his days.
Confidence affects player performance all over the pitch, of coarse. Strikers seems to be either on form or off it. There are countless examples of players who were at one time incredible, and then for no reason that anyone can understand suddenly are a shadow of their former selves.
Fernando Torres was a world superstar until his 50 million pound move from Liverpool to Chelsea when he suddenly couldn’t hit a barn door. Most recently, much was expected of Alexis Sanchez after his big money move from Arsenal to Manchester United. But he has been a shadow of the player he was prior to the move. I don’t think anyone can understand his drop in form.
So, how does someone recover from embarrassing performances? How does one avoid it sinking into one's psyche and leading to prolonged bad form? Well, if I had the exact answer I might be a better player. In fact if I had the right temperament I might be an all round better person. Temperament is the word of the day here. It’s either in your temperament to overcome setbacks fast, or it’s not. If like most of us, it’s not and you’re relegated to those sorry souls that buy various self help books in a bid to improve yourself.
The key piece of wisdom that I might give comes from any other bad moment you have in life. Think of a failed relationship, for example. Or a failed business effort. The advice your usually given is to dust yourself off and get straight back up. You need to just move forward. Quickly learn the lesson from the mistake you made, and then speedily move forward. Avoid wallowing in the past at all costs.
But if you are like me , a nostalgist - as these articles have demonstrated, moving on bravely is not so easy.