In a season where the passion and relevance of the English F.A cup have been in question, one team defies the odds and shows a true cup spirit. Of course I am referring to Reading, the team who have become all to familiar to football fans around the world after deservedly knocking out Liverpool in the 3rd round and Burnley are the latest top flight victim to the Royals. If you needed any sort of proof that the F.A cup can bring out the best in players, take into consideration that Reading haven’t won a game in their last six league outings and only won three league games in 2009 at their home ground, the Madjeski Stadium (and two of them came in January!). Their win in the 4th round once again got me thinking about how players become differently motivated when the competition changes and the mental challenges that players obviously face.
In the third round replay against Liverpool, at Anfield, Reading completely out played Liverpool and there were several occasions where the players were so confident that they were tricking and nut-megging their way through Carragher and Agger – two experienced decorated defenders. Yet we never see play like this from Reading in the league and they’re often guilty of dropping their heads when things don’t go their way. They’re a talented set of players, obviously the team isn’t of the same calibre as the previous season, but this team shouldn’t be in the relegation zone and that is clear when we know that they are capable of beating the likes of Liverpool and Burnley who are in the league above them.
So it comes down to confidence and belief, one week you’re in the league and struggling to garner belief that you can play to the best of your ability and the next week the cup comes about and you have all the confidence in the world. But why? I’m not sure even a Reading player could answer you that, it’s almost as if there are two Reading teams at the moment and although the scalps of two Premiership teams are impressive, they need to transfer this confidence they get playing in the cup over to the league otherwise Reading may not be starting next seasons cup run from the 3rd round…
It’s a strange phenomenon not only in football but psychology itself; the aspect of motivation is something fascinating and strange. From an outsiders view, it doesn’t make much sense how Reading can get beat by Plymouth (a team below them in the league) 4-1, then soon after outplay Liverpool – twice. Players are obviously very motivated to take on the top teams with the top players as if to prove a point to the football world, yet why do motivation and confidence levels change so dramatically because the name of the competition changes?
Now Reading come up against Sheffield United in the league, away; not an easy game for an team in the Championship. And I wonder if Reading will return to their poor league form or will be inspired by their cup performance. They recently played quite well against Nottingham Forrest away from home but the punters will no doubt prefer the Blades. This also raises the question of how much is ability down to confidence and motivation? Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo obviously have a lot of confidence in their play and the raw talent to match it, but could there be players that maybe could have been a lot better if they had just played with confidence and motivation. I believe that the more you think about motivation and confidence, the more it hinders your play and maybe the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo and Messi don’t even consider their motivation and instead try to focus on how their actual talent – so as if motivation takes a back seat therefore is constantly high.
You look at the England goalkeeper situation at the moment and people constantly mention the word ‘confidence’. David Seaman was England’s number one for years and I can’t ever remember his confidence being questioned, whereas people are worried that Robert Green is losing his concentration because of all the goals he is conceding. Seaman didn’t need confidence – he was just ability and although I’m not questioning how good Robert Green is but how good can you say England’s goalkeeper is if he loses faith in his own ability? A lack of confidence can ruin any player.