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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Great minds think alike
By BBC Sport Online's John Sinnott
Even before a ball is kicked in the new Premiership season, the mind games have begun.
Liverpool's Gerald Houllier sparked off the latest spat by saying that the current champions Manchester United would once again win the league.
United's Sir Alex Ferguson, schooled in the Govan shipyard of psychological warfare, did not let that go unchallenged.
He responded by saying that Liverpool, having completed their cup treble last season, would have to mount a significantly better challenge in the Premiership than last season.
All good knockabout stuff which the newspapers lapped up, eager to fill their backpages in the silly season.
Yet both Houllier's and Ferguson's interest in psychology runs deeper than just making the headline writers' jobs a little easier.
And for the first time this season English football will see two psychologists hold senior positions at two Premier League clubs.
During the summer Houllier appointed a sports psychologist Jacques Crevoisier as his first-team coach to replace Patrice Bergues, who returned to France to coach Lens at the end of last season.
Crevoisier, who came to Liverpool from Uefa, had worked with Houllier when the Liverpool manager was at the French Football Federation during the 1990s.
Indeed eight years ago the two Frenchman wrote a book together - Entraineur: Competence et Passion - which was about the mental preparation that is required to succeed in football.
Likewise last season Ferguson, on the suggestion of his former assistant Steve McLaren, employed occupational sports psychologist Bill Beswick to help in the task of motivating United's millionaire players.
McLaren, who also worked with Beswick at Derby County, has now taken the psychologist to be his assistant manager at Middlesbrough.
Houllier and Ferguson are in good company in their belief that the mind is powerful weapon in the coach's armoury.
England coach Sven Goran Eriksson has long been an advocate of the power of psychology and has maintained a long association with the renowned Swedish psychologist Willi Railo.
The two Scandinavians along with Hakan Matson have also collaborated in writing a book - Sven-Goran Eriksson on Football - which again emphasised how important psychology is in the process of creating winning football teams.
Beswick encountered initial resistance when he started working at Derby, his first role at a professional football club.
"The players recoiled in horror at the idea of working with a shrink," says the psychologist. "Even Jim Smith expected some guy in a white coat."
Beswick, a former England basketball coach, was only accepted after he ran a two-hour basketball session one day when training was cancelled because of icy conditions.
"I was no longer the shrink, I was the coach."
Even then Beswick found that it was the Europeans at Derby that called on his services most regularly.
"The foreign players responded more willingly to the presence of a sports psychologist. They have learnt to take every possible advantage to get the most of out of their game."
Beswick, in a recent addition of a Uefa magazine The Technician, makes clear that that is no longer the case.
"I was in the Manchester United dressing room one day and told the players the story about three men who were laying bricks.
"Each of them was asked what he was doing. 'Laying bricks,' said the first. 'Earning £10 per hour,' said the second.
"The third one said. 'I'm building a cathedral and, one day, I'll bring my kids back here and tell them that their dad had contributed to this magnificent building.'
Apparently David Beckham, following that talk, went out onto the training pitch, scored an incredible goal and ran off shouting "Cathedral 1 Bricklayers 0."
Come next May it will be interesting to see whether Beckham will be holding aloft the Premiership trophy, plus of course, a trowel.
More news on this club
More news on this club
More news on this club
18 Jul 01 | Football
Wenger fires first shots at Ferguson
05 Jul 01 | Middlesbrough
McClaren appoints psychologist
23 Jul 01 | World Cup 2002
Eriksson seeks mental boost
20 Jan 01 | Aston Villa
James has faith in mind guru
Other top Eng Prem stories:
Links to top Eng Prem stories are at the foot of the page.
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