'Psycho' sets the goals for Rooney to score them

But in unveiling Bill Beswick as England's first team psychologist, Steve McClaren risks comparisons with a certain Eileen Drewery, says Sam Wallace
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was around six years ago that Bill Beswick was on the training ground at Manchester United with Nicky Butt and another senior member of the club's coaching staff, who challenged the midfielder to hit the crossbar from 40 yards. Not until the coach had struck the bar first, and departed gloating that Butt should consult "Psycho" about his shortcomings did the player accomplish the feat himself.

When Beswick asked Butt why he had not done it sooner, the player told him that he had no wish to humiliate such a key figure at the club and jeopardise his own chances of playing. Beswick considered it such an insight into the psychology of top footballers he included it in a lecture at a 2001 American coaching convention - it was designed to show the mentality needed to switch from "warrior" on the pitch to the "emotionally calming" stage.

Whoever that unnamed United coach was pouring scorn on "Psycho", you can be sure it was not Steve McClaren who announced on Friday that Beswick, who has worked with him most of his career, would be the England football team's first designated psychologist. Six years into the new millennium élite English footballers are at last to be given the holistic approach - mind as well as body - although how Beswick will fare under such scrutiny remains to be seen.

The precedents do not look promising, especially when the last person to try to get the England team to embrace a more New Age philosophy became such an object of ridicule. When Eileen Drewery, Glenn Hoddle's spiritual healer, laid her hands on Ray Parlour's head she was famously met with the request "short back and sides please". Actually, Parlour and Drewery, who both came from Essex, got on well but eventually her role came to symbolise much of the chaos of the Hoddle England regime.

Beswick worked with McClaren at Derby and Middlesbrough, and he had a consultant role at Manchester United too, although he was never given a permanent job or official title at the club. It begged the question: did Sir Alex Ferguson ever believe in him?

"The internal challenge of the peer group."

"Sell versus yell."

"Soldier-artists/Artists-soldiers."

"If you hold a bird too tight, he doesn't have enough freedom. If you hold a bird too loose, you lose control. In either case, you get crap on your hand."

These soundbites were also taken from Beswick's 2001 coaching lectures and sit uncomfortably with the more traditional view that professional footballers are simple beings who respond only to the stick or the carrot. Persuading Wayne Rooney to talk about his feelings may be tougher than qualifying for Euro 2008.

Most of the key players in the England team are already signed up to alternative football philosophies as outlined by their club managers - but Beswick's new role does show that McClaren is trying to think differently. Yesterday Beswick was a bystander at the first training session of McClaren's reign. If the manager fails, he has left himself open to a particular kind of derision, as Hoddle did when stories of Drewery's eccentricities emerged in the dying days of that regime.

The Football Association appears already to be gathering its defences around Beswick. Until last Thursday www.billbeswick.com was an innocent-looking, home-made website modestly advertising the achievements of its creator. It told how Beswick had arranged an exchange to America for a promising young female footballer from Merseyside. It also confirmed that spelling is not one of Beswick's strong points; in his book "Focused for Soccer" he referred to Steve "McLaren" while on his website he claimed to have worked with Jimmy Floyd "Hasslebaink".

As of Friday, Beswick's site was "down for maintenance", his grinning, avuncular picture removed along with his billing as "the Soccer Coach's Coach". The man himself has no background in professional football and jokes he last played the game as a child 40 years ago, but he claims to have worked for eight years for the FA with its Under-18 and Under-21 teams.

How someone like Gary Neville responds to having an envelope with 10 new "personal goals" for the year handed to him on 1 January (another Beswick initiative) could be open to debate. On the other hand, some of his other approaches sound more appropriate to McClaren's position. Which young striker does this bring to mind? "Good players are difficult," Beswick cautions. "Ask yourself are they worth it? If they are, then stick with them as long as possible."

As with much of sport psychology, so much seems so obvious it barely needs saying - any player who needs to be reminded that "talent", "toughness" and "commitment" are needed to succeed is evidently in trouble anyway. Beswick offers shards of insight, such as the fact that Roy Keane could not get motivated for meaningless end-of-season games. Or the annoyance of players that Beckham always attempted the difficult rather than easy pass.

Beckham is one psychological profile that Beswick will not have to concern himself with. In fact, he arrives at a time when a major shift in the hierarchy of the England team is taking place and the group could be more open to new ideas. Of Beckham, Beswick once adapted a quote from Michael Jordan: "You can see my face everywhere but my soul only on a soccer field." The less of that kind of talk the better.

Comments