Next play: Moving past bad performances

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.

A colorful evolution of the football boot

Back in my day everyone wore black boots. When watching football on TV at the beginning of the 90s you barely ever saw a player with boots other than the color black. When you did, that player stood out like a sore thumb. White boots running around a field just looked so unnatural. They screamed… look at me! It took a certain type of arrogance to make the decision to wear them.

To show how uncommon the trend was - look at this photo from the 1995 Champions League Final. In the AC Milan team photo you can see Marco Simone wearing white boots. A couple of the other players have flashes of red, and green which I think would even have came across a tad garish back then.

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I can’t emphasize how much white boots stood out when watching football back then. When just one player out of 11, or 22 decides to go with a white boot, you notice.

Jumping forward to last years Champions League Final - in this photo of Liverpool lifting the cup, it’s hard to spot one player wearing black boots.

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Funnily enough when watching football now, I personally notice the colors much less now everyone is wearing different colors. They don’t pop like that one player who went rogue wearing a pair of white boots.

What’s the point? Times change. Trends change. Individuality is in. Perceived individuality certainly. In a time when you can pick your color iphone, or Nintendo Switch, I suppose it makes sense that you can pick your color boots.

In saying that, if its a team game, where it is good to represent yourself as a team, is there something to be said for uniform? Lets talk about uniforms.

When I went to school in Dublin, we had to wear a uniform. Grey trousers, grey socks, grey shirt, grey jumper, black shoes, blue tie. Exciting right? I hated it, but in hindsight at least it gave you one less thing to think about in the morning. Also and pretty crucially kids couldn’t actually compete with each-other over who had the best grey shirt. Nobody cared. We all got our grey shirt from the same place.

Individuality in my school years was when a kid decided to go for the bleach blonde look. That was The Beatles mop top of my era. The individual trend didn’t last long, as pretty soon every kid started bleaching their hair blonde. I always found that a bit odd and slightly ironic that the way you end up being an individual is to not go along with a trend.

Attempting to mitigate peer pressure in school is surely a good thing? It puts huge pressure on parents when kids come home complaining that the others have the latest video game or the like.

What is clear is that the changing face of football boot color is less to do with us craving to express ourselves as we may like to think, but rather a clever way for manufacturers to market to kids. Where once upon a time a standard pair of black boots would have been adequate, I suppose a kid these days will want the exact boots worn by their hero. And if that hero changes his boot color every year/ every month, then it only follows that said kid will want the new boots too.

But why don’t people gravitate towards the classic black anymore? Outside of the fact that we are not being marketed black it because people no longer like black as a boot color? In what other situations might you choose illuminous orange over black? Would you wear an neon green suit over a classic black suit or dress?

Most people wouldn’t wear a striped pink outfit if they wanted to be taken seriously. Can you imagine James Bond in anything other than a classic dark suit?

It’s a matter of taste I suppose. Have we become tasteless?

Let’s look again at the classic black boot...


What does this say about me? Am I destined to become a crusty conservative - watching on as the kids go out of control with their freckled hair styles, sparkly iPhones and neon orange Pumas.

The legendary football manager Alex Ferguson was known for being a strict disciplinarian. He didn’t want individuality getting out of control. But towards the end of the 90s superstardom of certain players began to go into over drive. There was the mercurial talent of Eric Cantona. His flamboyant style trend was to play with his shirt collar up. It seems harmless enough, but it stood out at the time.

But Cantona's collar was nothing compared to the constantly changing hair styles of David Beckham. I kid you not when I say a new David Beckham's barnet became front page fodder in the UK.

Ferguson eventually had enough with Beckham’s celebrity. Ferguson wanted players main focus to be on the game. And so in one of the last great examples of true managerial power Ferguson offloaded Becks - but not before ironically kicking boot at him as he made his way to the exit door.

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We now live in an age of unparalleled player power. Using Manchester United as an example of where this has lead, see the example of Paul Pogba. A talented player who seems to have something different going on with his hair style every time you see him. Pogba, despite his 100 million price tag has been accused of not caring as he should. His characterful persona is perfect for a marketing man to latch onto. Pogba appears to be a better player in FIFA video game than in reality.

Here is an interesting video showcasing Pogba’s changing boots over the years.

You may notice in this video that in the early days Pogba went often with a classic black look. But as the years passed and his fame grew that the colors became more outlandish. I suppose it only makes sense from a marketing perspective that if you want to sell some boots, you need to stick the players in boots that stick out. But perhaps more it speaks of the time we are in. Perceived individuality is in. But is it any wonder with all this individuality that Manchester United have not been able to get it together?

This is becoming an Esquire article. Hope you enjoy this weeks video.