The Last Word: Winners don't make ideal sons-in-law

Murray knows no holds are barred when it comes to becoming a Grand Slam champion

What makes a winner? Which qualities define a champion? On this day of days, when the matrons of Middle England will light a candle for Andy Murray and say a silent prayer for his salvation, such questions are loaded with an almost mystical relevance.

There's no God Particle in sport, no Higgs boson effect on the Centre Court. This isn't a Eureka moment for British tennis, whatever the Lawn Tennis Association's opportunists and apologists claim. It's a man at work.

There is a huge contrast between the twee rituals of Wimbledon and the elemental individualism of Murray's sport. His closed character, which encourages perceptions of surliness and self-absorption, is an asset. Generations of ideal son-in-laws have been found wanting in such a gladiatorial environment.

Recurrent controversies, a reflection of the moral ambivalence of modern sport, tell us virtue is not necessarily rewarded with victory. No one can win 16 Grand Slams, as Roger Federer has done, by being as innocent as a country curate.

The Swiss is where he is because of who he is. He embodies the six Cs – character, commitment, competitiveness, composure, consistency and confidence – found in the DNA spiral of successful elite athletes.

He is the finished article, graceful, lithe, popular and powerful. He presents the perfect image, manages to disguise the aggressive narcissism which has been channelled into his attempt to return to No 1.

To match him, and end the genuflection before the legend of Fred Perry, Murray must reach a higher state of consciousness, play with forensic intelligence and a controlled fury. He must channel a pathological hatred of failure into positive energy, ignoring the distraction of a supportive crowd while remaining open to its benefits.

Winners are exceptionally driven. Academic studies show they share an acute attention to detail, an acknowledgement of their accountability and an obsession with marginal improvement. Will tends to be more important than skill.

The best play in a vacuum, blocking out random chance and human error. A momentary lapse in concentration – such as that, at the start of the third set, which threatened Murray in his semi-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – can leave an athlete flat and fragile. It is vital to refocus quickly.

Only at the point of victory can Murray succumb to humanity. The demons will be chirping, seeking self-doubt. Steve Peters calls it the phenomenon of the inner chimp.

We first met before the Athens Olympics, when Peters's day job was as a clinical psychologist at Rampton high-security hospital. He is now sport's mind mechanic of choice, working wonders with Olympic champions such as Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. The England rugby team are his new pet project.

Intriguingly, given his experience of peeling away the layers of a mass-murderer's personality, Peters highlights the mildly psychopathic tendencies of many elite athletes. They are ruthless; strategic in their behaviour. They take tough decisions with little remorse, manipulate those around them and ignore anxiety in stressful situations.

Winners have a deep-seated belief in their ability to prevail which can manifest itself as arrogance. It does not make for an easy life. Roy Keane, for example, was contemptuous of the concept of heroism and personal glory. Some, like Ayrton Senna, seek spiritual solace, a divine dimension. Others retain a connection with their childhood. Wayne Gretsky, ice hockey's icon, skated on a rink built by his father and illuminated by lights strung on a wire from a neighbours' garage. He says: "The feelings of that backyard never left me."

Murray's journey began in Dunblane, which has as much in common with Wimbledon as Ulan Bator. Is it too much to hope it will be completed today in suburbia's sacred temple?

Keep Calm and Carry On, Constance.

Football decency goes by the board

Groundhog Day starred yet another badge-kissing, soundbite-spewing footballer, using ambition as a masking agent for avarice.

The poison-pen letter from Robin van Persie to Arsenal was particularly smug, painfully transparent. But its unintended consequence was mildly amusing.

Enter, stage left, the Uzbek billionaire and Arsenal's second-largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov, who railed against the discreet greed of old-school types such as Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, who made £116 million from her inherited Arsenal shares. Peter Hill-Wood, Arsenal's Old Etonian chairman, gallantly rushed to her defence, before admitting that his own windfall, £5.5m, was "nice".

Usmanov's criticism of the club's strategy was opportunist, but in a wider sense he had a point. Boardroom warriors won't get out of bed for less than eight figures when it comes to selling the family silver. Martin Edwards took £120m out of Manchester United. David Moores left Liverpool with £88m. John Hall, self-styled father of the Geordie Nation, sold his interests in Newcastle for £95m. Freddie Shepherd made do with £50m. They retain airs and graces and presume a right to speak down to the masses.

Give me a good old grasping footballer any day. 

Oh Danny Boy

The actor Danny Dyer is pwopa nawty. He drops aitches like bombs and has been plugging Saturday's pub brawl between David Haye and Dereck Chisora. I'm told to expect more violence outside the ring than inside it at Upton Park. Stay safe, geezah.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick