The fully frozen pond is a slick but relatively safe walking space. It can be used for all manner of frivolity including ice skating, hockey, ice fishing or even Curling. The completely unfrozen pond offers an equal measure of possibility with swimming, boating, fishing, diving or just floating. The dangerous pond is the half frozen pond. It offers nothing but uncertainty. At any moment, the surface can crack and leave you in a scramble for survival with hypothermia and drowning both being real possibilities. It is the one to fear and avoid.
The same can be said for commitment to a team. Fully committed players make a good team into a great one because they are not just in it for themselves. The completely uncommitted players are often put on the bench or removed from the team. Just like the ice, the half-committed players are the ones that are dangerous because it’s hard to tell when they’ll crack under the pressure. While players are the easiest to identify with this metaphor, it works equally for fans, management, ownership, etc. Commitment is not just for one group of people to rectify. It is something for all of the different groups who are attached to the club to consider and contribute their part.
This season has been a disappointment to say the least. The POSH looked promising at times early in the season, even without a recognized striker. As time wore on, the pond began to melt and became unstable. The manager was the one who fell through as he was given the cold shoulder by several of the players. Now Grant McCann has been given the task of mending the cracks. With twelve matches remaining and the POSH eight points (plus goal difference) adrift; the team, fans, management, and ownership need to be solid for that time. This is not a task for one or even a handful to complete. At best that is more of the half frozen status quo that has brought us to this point. Everyone who steps onto the pitch, all of the fans in the stands and the ones at home need to solidify in their commitment to the one and only objective: staying in the Championship! The opportunity is not gone. It is only difficult.
My hope is that Peterborough has a cold spring, not literally, you get the metaphor! Rock solid!
It’s the end of an era and I am extremely sad. Each fan is allowed their opinion and this is just mine. This is not just a manager leaving. It is a crossroads for the club that so many of us adore. Although Darren Ferguson was one of many managers over the past two decades, he personifies what the ethos of the club has become. His brand of attacking football that regularly had the POSH near the top of the list for goals scored has become an expectation at the club. Therefore this is truly a monumental problem that the club must face. Bringing in any manager to “right the ship” will not maintain that ethos set during Ferguson’s tenure. Survival, no doubt is the aim but the long term health of the club will depend largely upon the way that things are done moving forward. I have an answer and almost no one is going to like it.
In order to keep the club from getting relegated and maintain a semblance of the club’s forward thinking style with the players that we have will take a particular type of person. Someone with a pedigree that will gain instant respect from the players but a willingness to take on a challenge of these proportions. In addition to these attributes comes the need for someone who recognizes the importance of giving opportunities to young players. Although I’m sure this will be written off as pure Americanism, my belief is that Jesse Marsch would be the best candidate that we could hope to get.
While I’m sure that most POSH fans have not studied Jesse’s career, I’ve gotten to see it develop over the past decade. His progression from my standpoint started at New York Red Bull. At that club, he helped to do a top to bottom overhaul of the club’s persona. The messaging that was used inside and outside of the locker room was consistent with the play on the field. His style of play was a combination of pressing with insurgent attacking that would be akin to what POSH fans would expect. He regularly brought players from the youth academy through to the first team. Several players, including Tyler Adams, were given their big break under Jesse Marsch. Although he could have continued to seek success in MLS, he chose to progress his career by moving to Germany as second in command at RB Leipzig. That opportunity was merely a waiting room for him to move to Red Bull Salzburg where he was very successful developing young talent while winning games along the way. This halftime speech may be mostly in German but the results that he was able to get from his players against Liverpool in the Champion’s League is exactly what we need. Based upon his success in Salzburg, he was given the reins at RB Leipzig. He was unable to find the same winning ways but that is probably the only thing that could give our club a chance at getting him. His last position could be viewed as a failure but having listened to Jesse speak many times, he will have used it as a learning experience. With something to prove and his Red Bull connection possibly severed, the opportunity to build up a small club in the Championship might be the exact type of challenge he wants.
My desire would have been that Darren Ferguson would have stayed. This season is not representative of what he is nor what he has meant to the club. His fate was possibly sealed when we did not sell JCH in the summer. His stock was at its highest and will not go that high again. Selling him for a few million to someone else would have funded many of the pieces that we needed to survive. Unfortunately the past is gone and Darren Ferguson is no longer the POSH manager. A fourth time around is not coming, so it is farewell and I wish nothing but the best for the “gaffer”!
Darren Ferguson signed a new contract as manager of Peterborough United. It is a role that he has held for over 500 matches and on three different occasions. A contract is a necessary part of the business of football. People need to be paid for their performance. Often success is rewarded with contract extensions and bonuses. These are all part of the “nuts and bolts” of being a professional. Managers get hired and fired by a club regularly because they are either getting results or not. At a certain point, some managers transcend their role and become one inextricably linked with the club. By saying that manager’s name, the club comes with it and vice versa. Even if the manager does move on to another club, their mark lingers on after they are gone. All too often, their departure leaves a gaping hole that others struggle to fill it. Or their thumb print can be seen on every aspect of the club moving forward. Sometimes it is both!
Wenger, Guardiola, Clough, Mourinho and of course Ferguson are all managers who have had this type of effect. In the modern age of football, it is difficult or often undesirable to have a tenure at a club that lasts a decade. So Pep and Jose’s mention is not completely out of place here. Although you could make arguments on which club they left the greatest imprint, there is no denying their transformational impact.
It is not a huge surprise that Darren Ferguson has had that type of effect at Peterborough. Having a father whose shoes are still waiting to be filled at Manchester United, there were more than likely lessons learned through that direct contact. While his lineage is important, he has also carved his name into the crest of the POSH because of the seeds that he has continually planted with Darragh MacAnthony during his three stints at the club. Finally neither man is walking away from the project because they both seem to realize that Darren Ferguson and POSH are one in the same. His presence is bigger than the role as manager.
As a POSH fan, this is an exciting time! Although there was a younger version of me that enjoyed the drama (and promised hope) of manager changes, I’ve seen enough at this point to know that the grass is not greener. The club are in the right place at the moment. Largely during my time as a PUFC fan, when things have gone right, it’s because Ferguson was at the helm. Now we have him on another contract and he can continue to be the talisman of the club. The man is bigger than the role! The only question is “how high can we go together?”
I place the blame squarely on my own shoulders. So far this season, I’ve only been able to watch four matches and two have been POSH wins. My lack of commitment is a leading factor in the poor form. While I say this all in jest, people link results to a variety of factors which represent correlation and not causation. The away form is troubling and so are the goals in quick succession. Both are a symptom of an underlying problem that is easy to spot but more difficult to correct. Fergie put it very plainly in his post match interview. There is a lack of belief within the team that gets exacerbated away from home and when the team concede.
While it is simple enough to identify a lack of belief, it’s more difficult to correct considering all contributing factors. In order to have a squad that can withstand the workload, injuries and the level of the Championship; there needs to be competition at every single position. It is an absolute necessity but it creates circumstances where a player’s position within the team is always in question. As professional athletes, this is part of the job but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
If it were just the uncertainty of the position, there probably would not be such a grand issue at the moment. However each player must also internally wrestle with the question of whether or not, they are “Championship standard.” Obviously all of the members of the squad are eligible to play in the Championship because it is the league where the POSH are now. However there is a difference between being a Championship player and feeling like you belong at that level. Hopefully the players are smart enough to avoid looking at social media or player rating. That level of scrutiny is difficult to bear. Fans, pundits and journalists have the right to rate or not rate a player. It doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. Keeping one’s mentality straight with daggers being pulled for any play that is not up to snuff.
Finally the pressure of survival. This is one of the reasons that I’ve been a firm proponent of aiming higher than survival. Having taught for many years, I know that the individual who is just looking to pass will never get an A. The one who is willing to put in the work with high expectations will do far better than the bare minimum. Survival is not riding on every kick of the ball or even every match. It just feels that way and that feeling doesn’t help. The increased pressure produces anxiety that does not improve performance.
It’s simple enough to just say “get on with it.” These players are professional athletes who signed up for this pressure. True! However, any fan, pundit or journalist can tell you that a striker in the Championship needs to be more clinical because the number of chances are fewer and more difficult. So a player will train to improve their finishing skills. It’s necessary to perform at this level. How much training have players gotten on their mindset? Belief? Self-talk? Visualization?
I’m sure there has been some but if this truly is the missing component to success then it needs to be a core component to the training. A striker who is not putting shots on frame would not be told to just figure it out. There’s too much at stake. Each player would be different. Depending on their personality types, learning styles and modality preferences; they would need to develop skills to help them put legs under the “table” of their belief. For now they seem to be able to believe at home. That’s something! Unfortunately that does not scratch the true potential of this squad. They can make a real dent in this league but they need to believe it to their core. For now, they are waiting for the results to give them belief. That’s actually reverse of what needs to happen. Belief is a skill that they need to hone.
Up the POSH! I’ll do my part. I’m positive the players can do theirs.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. The original title for this blogpost was going to be “Poor POSH Produced No Points”. Harrison Burrows and Siriki Dembele changed that after their introduction into Saturday’s game. Although their goals are bound to be the focus, it is actually their mentality that truly caused the shift. Both players came in with a desire to compete that has been lacking in a few POSH squad members for the first two weekends. Luckily, all of our new recruits seem ready and willing to compete. Norburn and Randall are the two that standout most in my mind from the POSH new boys but they are not the only ones. While others within the squad seem to hope that their past contributions will buy them a starting position and wins in the results column. Luckily Burrows and Dembele have a bit more to fight for and it showed.
Today the echoing chant on social media seems to be that we need to hang onto Dembele or we’re sunk. While there is no denying Dembele’s talent with the ball at his feet, his true value is in his mentality. Perhaps his motivation is solely based on getting a move away from Peterborough and that’s ok! Stars have come and gone through the years at POSH but thriving in the Championship will not come down to the names on the team sheet but rather their inclination toward proving their value at this level. Players who are willing to do what it takes to compete to earn a position, then contribute toward a win are invaluable. Ones who are looking to protect their standing could be our undoing regardless of how popular or productive they were in the past.
Two league games are hardly enough to render judgment on anyone’s mentality but there are some worrying signs. The general feeling from the Luton game seemed to be one of fear from returning players. Several players seemed to be afraid that they weren’t able to play at this level. They seemed to get rattled by instances that I’ve watched them cope with handily before. Most likely that will pass. The far more concerning situations are where a player is looking for someone to bail him out. Whether the manager, the referee or other teammates, I’ve seen a few moments where a player is looking outside of himself for answers to problems that exist within. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a starter but earning it is key. Looking for a foul call is alright as well, provided that’s not the only thing in your arsenal. Teammates are there to be relied upon, not used as scapegoats for your shortcomings.
The substitutes in the Derby match were able to shift the mentality within the team. Even players who had been in for the entire match found a new sense of belief and an energy that carried them to the win. Dembele is not the answer. He’s an answer with the characteristics that we need. The POSH way is to “go forward”. Most of the time that means toward goal but it is also the mentality of progress, both personally and collectively. Not settling for being in the Championship or expecting that who we were last season is good enough. It means proving that we are a Championship club. That will not be given to anyone. It’s earned with each tackle, every run, pass and shot. Players will need to burn that into their brains because it’s the only way we’ll thrive in this league. It can be done and we have players that can do it. They just need to decide to.
As the Euros are on at the moment, there is plenty of buzz around different players. The value of a player can go up or down massively during a tournament like this. Some stars are born out of these circumstances and others that have shown bright in the past fade. Gareth Bale used to be worth nearly 100 million pounds. Now his market value is around 19 million. Is he one fifth the player that he used to be? Probably not, his chipping has definitely improved! Haha! But seriously, a player’s value is not a fixed thing, nor is it ever completely accurate. It is based on many perceived factors including consistency and potential. No one can see what tomorrow will bring but those who guess right consistently enough, create value for their clubs.
Luckily for the past decade and a half, the POSH have had a relatively consistent combination of a gambler and a teacher who have maximized player value. This season that value is no longer going to help finance the club’s future young starlets. It is going to pay the rent for a year in the Championship. While the POSH haven’t done any transfer business yet this summer, the core of their promotion winning side is intact. This side’s fate will depend largely on the “dynamic duo” of DMac and Fergie to do what they have for so many years, see value where others don’t and improve it.
Although it’s easy say after the fact, that Boyd, Gayle, and Toney were “destined” to be great, no one can ever truly say. The order of the moment is to believe. Consistently through the years, the DMac/Fergie combination have delivered results. Although the Championship is a different level, lessons have been learned and the course is clear. There is nothing magical about the Championship. No one has a divine right to play there but there are teams that it’s almost a given that they are going to stay up. The bookies know who they are, that’s how they set the odds. However they have made a slight error in setting the POSH at 15/8 to get relegated. They are discounting the gambler and the teacher. The track record of turning potential into POSH should not be overlooked. Perhaps it’s for the best though. Long odds can create strong mentality of belief in teams and individuals. Us against the world is an idea that can be sold because people who are undervalued have something to prove. This season is all about the things that POSH does well. Finding diamonds in the rough and getting them to shine for all to see. Patience.
With three matches remaining, the POSH are on the cusp of returning to the Championship. Three points is all that it will take to push them beyond the reach of Lincoln and Sunderland. Everyone can feel the excitement of possibility. Despite the desire to achieve promotion on Tuesday night, the players cannot go into the match trying to do that. Winning promotion will be a byproduct of their actions, not something they can force. It will be a sum total of quality actions leading up to and during the ninety minutes of the match. Keeping one’s nerve is much more difficult when the moment is inflated into something that it isn’t.
Anticipating the key moment to a match or someone’s life is almost impossible. So it is really not worth doing. Putting the extra pressure of anticipation or anxiety is not usually a recipe for success. A moment is just that, a moment. Its meaning will come clear to us after the fact. Most of our performance in life comes down to things that we’ve done hundreds, thousands or possibly millions of times. Freeing one’s self from the weight of expectation comes down to the knowledge that when given an opportunity, you won’t run from it. You will give the moment the attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Consistency is key.
The reason that the POSH are in this position is that they have consistently strung together enough moments to earn this opportunity. They do not need to be better than who they have been all season long. They simply need to be who they have been consistently without the weight of expectation. No one needs to score a hat-trick, a bicycle kick or a goal from a half field. A deflected ball off of any player’s butt will do.
So the key to winning promotion is simply winning the moments. Focusing on the things that are actually within one’s control: playing a ball to feet, being first to the ball, seeing the goal rather than the keeper, and getting back to neutral if anything goes awry. Winning the majority of the moments gives us the best chance and afterward, we’ll all be able to see which ones were the biggest. Those 7 minutes only become famous because the moment wasn’t bigger than the men.
During one of my first few seasons supporting Peterborough United, they faced a relegation battle. I was riveted! Even though I had no way to watch the matches, I followed the results intently. When I went on a skiing trip where I would have no internet access, I had my brother text me the score of the match that day. The saga ended with the POSH playing in League 2 for a few seasons but I could not help being engrossed with the situation.
At the moment, POSH are on a push toward promotion and I am equally (but differently) riveted. Success breeds an entirely different set of emotions than possible failure. Fear is an emotion that is hardwired within us, our fear response is almost literally set up to “short circuit” our brain’s higher functions in order to deal with a threat. Whether it is a real mortal threat or simply a perceived situation of importance, our brains don’t know the difference.
Most of the time, we don’t live in a relegation battle nor a promotion push. Our existence is usually a collection of “mid-table” events. Life tends to find some form of equilibrium where this year tends to look a lot like the last and the one before. It can be comforting or frustrating depending on your perspective. I am a firm proponent of being grateful for all that you have but aspiration is not a sin. Being grateful simply gives you a firm foundation to start from.
So if you have been living a mid table life, then perhaps it is time to put yourself into a relegation battle. Not by allowing yourself to hit rock bottom but by raising your standards. Move the line of your “bare minimum” up. Expect a little more from life but recognize that this will most likely require more output from you. A mid table life does not create the emotions that we want to feel on a regular basis. While a life of fear is not something that I would suggest, the emotional tools that you have at your fingertips should be used for your own progress. If you push that line of minimum standards high enough, then promotion is on the horizon. Next year you’ll be playing in a different league and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
My own anxiety is up a little having just listened to the Yellow Block Podcast. Matthew Kisby is being positive again and it’s a little scary. Although I must admit, he tempered his positivity with the word “chance” when he referred to POSH winning the league this time. Despite the nine points in three matches, it’s not time to get carried away yet. Tim mentioned that the Ipswich game was a “chess match.” Increasingly, that is what the matches are going to become. Strategy and the mental game will dominate the considerations for upcoming matches. One of the other similarities is what my father used to call “playing the other side of the board” in chess. Looking at the options of your opponent in order to determine the moves that they might make. Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury offer the potential of acting as a banana peel but with the right mentality could be easily sorted.
FEAR – That is the emotion that teams like Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury will have when facing POSH due to our offensive weapons. A heavy defeat is catastrophic to their hopes of avoiding the drop. A draw is a great result, especially for Bristol Rovers, who have lost three in a row. Fueled by fear, their options are: bunker down to withstand the POSH attack while hoping for a counter or press to keep POSH away from their goal. Since Shrewsbury have had positive results against teams near the top of the league recently, I would anticipate that they’ll play and look to impose their will on the game. Bristol will more than likely park the team bus in front of their goal.
FORM – Most of the players within the team have been in good form recently. This would suggest almost no changes to the lineup. While this would be the Kisby route, I’m going in the opposite direction due to the order of the games. Since the Bristol match is going to require breaking down a team that are going to be reluctant to give anything away, I would look for some changes in this match. With the five subs, there are too ways to go about this. The first is start the normal lineup and replace at half if we have the lead. The other is to give other players the chance to prove themselves from the beginning. My personal preference would be to rotate the squad for the Bristol Rovers match in order to give a boost to those fringe players while resting the normal starters. SQUAD is my buzz word for the POSH this season. Our form will only last as long as the legs of the players do. This is a balancing act to be sure. Eisa, Jones, Clarke, Broom, et al need a chance to prove their worth. The opportunity to break down a team that is probably going to bunker in their own end might be the right assignment. Shrewsbury represent a much greater threat to a tired POSH team than a fresh one.
FATE – In classical literature, people (like Oedipus) who try to avoid their fate end up falling directly into it. The opposite is usually true here in the real world. People who believe too strongly in the certainty of their objectives tend to falter. That is not calling for pessimism or fatalism. Quite the opposite. It is a call for pragmatism. All of the stars have aligned through the owners’ recruitment, a packed schedule, a strong SQUAD, and an unimpressive league. The path is written in the stars. However just like Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” The belief that thing will just fall into place is fool-hearty. Yet the opposite end of the spectrum is also fraught with danger because forcing it to happen breeds tension and anxiety. Do that which is necessary and BELIEVE. Other teams should fear us as we are hitting that same type of stride from last season before the lockdown. They are not going to rollover and die though. There is “NO FATE but what we make” (Name that movie quote in the comments). So every day in training and all match days, it is on the SQUAD to show up and do their part. It’s only fate after the fact!
My friends at the Yellow Block are right to be optimistic but we need to keep it in check. I give Matt Kisby a hard time but I actually enjoy listening to him. As an almost pure optimist, I enjoy hearing about the other side of the coin. So I get worried when pessimists start seeing things as rosy. It usually precedes a correction to the balance of the universe. So let’s keep everything in perspective. One game at a time, we can climb the table and leave everyone else behind.
London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”
The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.
So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.
The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.
Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical and mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)
These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!