Robert Green's chances of salvaging England's World Cup hopes and his own career from Saturday night's calamitous error against the US will rest heavily on his team-mates, psychologists said yesterday.
The 30-year-old goalkeeper's humiliation after he fumbled a long-distance shot before the ball rolled over the line could have the traumatic impact of a road accident, one expert said.
But the attitude of manager Fabio Capello, and the team's defenders, whose confidence in their goalkeeper is critical, will be crucial in determining whether the West Ham player can recover his poise.
Lesley Perman-Kerr, a trauma psychologist, said: "He has experienced a trauma and he will be on red alert. He may experience flashbacks and that may affect how he responds in future matches. Instead of playing naturally he may play cautiously, because he has made a huge mistake. He has suffered a psychological injury. The question is whether it is serious enough to put him out of the competition or mild enough for a bit of psychological therapy, equivalent to physiotherapy for a pulled muscle, to get him back in the game."
After experiencing crucifying embarrassment at the error itself, Green had had to cope with the media onslaught in its wake. "The hand of clod", "Rob's clanger", and "The goalkeeping blunder that will never be forgotten" were among the verdicts delivered yesterday, placing his mistake firmly in the pantheon of all-time goalkeeping howlers.
Ian Stephen, consultant forensic psychologist, said Capello had done the best thing by keeping Green on the pitch for the remainder of the game.
"Some managers would have taken him off, which would have destroyed his confidence completely. He managed to make a couple of good saves later on and that will have helped. He will probably be getting quite a bit of psychological support but the most important support is from his team-mates. They will recognise it is something that happens to everyone and the goalkeeper is the last line of defence," he said. "Capello is a shrewd character. I think he will be reminding Green why he picked him in the first place – accentuating the positives – rather than looking back at what happened."
Philip Hodson, of the British Association for Counselling, said Green's error could be blamed on "first night nerves". "No one does well on opening night. The weight of expectation in the World Cup is as large as Mount Everest. It is an appalling ordeal. Most of those critical of Green would break out in a cold sweat if they had to appear on their local radio station," he said.
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University and author of Business and the Beautiful Game, said the blunder posed a bigger problem for the manager than the player.
"The good news is that Green is aged 30 and has been there before. I think he is more than capable of dealing with it. You don't counsel him – that's patronising. The real dilemma is Capello's. Does he protect the player that has made the mistake to support his confidence or does he protect the team?"
Professor Cooper said the problem for managers is that they had all been players, and tend to put the player's interest before the team's. "The best managers are psychologists. They are not just tacticians. They know how to man-manage the team and can accurately diagnose when to play someone. I think Green is going to be fine. If he had been a younger, less experienced footballer I would have had my doubts."
You're not alone, rob: other England goalie blunders
Peter Bonetti, June 1970
The Chelsea goalie made one of his few appearances for England in the World Cup quarter-final against West Germany in Mexico, when regular keeper Gordon Banks fell ill. England, the World Cup holders, led 2-0 when Bonetti let a shot from Franz Beckenbauer squirm under his body. The Germans won 3-2, and England were out.
David Seaman, June 2002
Seaman was regarded as a pretty safe pair of hands but in the World Cup quarter-final against Brazil in Shizuoka, Japan, he was undone by a Ronaldinho free kick taken from out wide on the right. Maybe he thought it was going to be a cross; but whatever he thought, he watched it sail over his head into the top corner.
Paul Robinson, October 2006
In a Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb, Robinson went to boot a Gary Neville back pass on the six-yard line, and at the last second the ball bobbled over the boot with which he was doing the booting, and rolled past him, almost in slow motion, into the net.
Scott Carson, November 2007
In an error similar to Robert Green's on Saturday, Scott Carson got down to a speculative shot from Niko Kranjcar in the home Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia, apparently ready to scoop it up with his body behind it. But he mishandled, the ball went past him, and Croatia took the lead. They won 3-2 and England failed for qualify for the finals.