x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Subtle art of mind games is lost on Manchester coaches

If it is being openly called out for what it is - mind games, apparently - then doesn't that defeat the very purpose of it?

Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini have traded too many words.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini have traded too many words.

Perhaps it is written into the founding charter of the English Premier League that come April every season, one manager in the hunt for the title must engage with another contender in a public conversation of the kind that at any other point of the year would be, well, just another public conversation; the kind of post-match guff used to fill newspaper space.

But from April on, in the vast, intellectually-barren terrains of the league, this ongoing conversation becomes known as the "mind games".

This season's instalment comes to us from Roberto Mancini, the manager of the chasers, and Sir Alex Ferguson, the chased (a near-annual fixture at these games and Overlord of all Mind Games).

The games were begun by Manchester City this season, from Patrick Vieira, who saw the return of Paul Scholes from retirement as a weakness in Manchester United's midfield (No, wait, really?).

Ferguson responded with a dig at Carlos Tevez's return from holiday (the side of a barn presents a more difficult target than the Argentine).

The ante was upped by Mancini last week who, despite trimming United's lead to five points, insisted that the title race was over and that United had "fantastic spirit" and could not lose the race (Wait, what? Oh, right, yes, we see what you're trying to do. Clever).

And pressed further this week before City's game against Norwich, to all-round shock and horror, Mancini lifted the thin veil on this charade by acknowledging he does not tell his players the same things he says to the media.

As much as the comments - and they aren't much - the yearly ritual of it and playing it up is increasingly tiresome. If it is being openly called out for what it is - mind games, apparently - then doesn't that defeat the very purpose of it?

Not to be mistaken: a genuinely incendiary confrontation can be fun (the meltdowns of Kevin Keegan and Rafael Benitez had a macabre appeal) and a long-running, deeply rooted battle can be satisfying (Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, before Ferguson won and they began "respecting" each other).

But Tom and Jerry have played out more subtle and meaningful mind games over the course of their legendary rivalry than the kind of fare we've seen this season.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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