“You may be a sharp dresser,
You may be a fantastic dancer,
You may be a lively conversationalist,
But what happens at the time of the big game,
When the time comes to show how you good you are?
Unless you can kick with confidence all your fancy dressing, dancing and talking won’t get you a second game”
Confidence is everything, in life and in football. It is in the mind, it comes from within and it can make an individual or a team achieve or perform to a level far greater than they might otherwise without such self belief. And that’s what Rangers are lacking at the moment, both collectively and individually.
No matter how much the players and the management might eulogise about the quality of the football being played at times, as well as the togetherness and the spirit within the camp, the truth is that they are not getting results and it’s definitely affecting confidence levels.
The team desperately needs a win to restore some confidence, and the longer this winless run continues, the more damaging it is becoming. The defence, admittedly badly struck by injury to key individuals, appear all at sea. Indeed it was no great surprise that in the League Cup match, Reading exploited the generally disorganised and disjointed look to it. Conceding goals too readily heaps pressure elsewhere and the team start to play with an element of desperation, rather than in a controlled organised structure or shape.
However, it is the individual players who are most affected and it is interesting to see how they are reacting to the situation in which they find themselves. It certainly seems to be having an impact on the Rangers’ skipper, Ji-Sung Park, who may well be beginning to feel the pressure. After his days of seemingly constant success at Manchester United, he is now experiencing something completely different. Whilst he has been an effervescent presence all season thus far, his display against Reading was poor in comparison to his previous performances and in the end he was put out of his misery and hauled off. This was somewhat akin to last year’s skipper Joey Barton being taken off in the Liverpool match last year. Even the captain’s place is not sacrosanct on a bad day.
It seems that the flair players are most affected, particularly those for whom confidence is fundamental to their success and ability to perform. When self doubt begins to creep into their minds, their play becomes fractured and desperate.
Maybe Rangers aren’t helping themselves. Too many changes cannot be beneficial. As we saw last season, it was only when the team became settled and the players began to feel comfortable in their positions and in their role within the team, did confidence begin to flow. The five consecutive home victories bore testament to that.
There is certainly a danger that all these changes are having a negative impact at the moment, and those players suddenly discarded are inevitably hit hardest. Their confidence is damaged and to rebuild it is not easy. It can only be done by the individual, out on the pitch, in the public spotlight, whatever the management might say in private. It is their own strength of character that is fundamental to them re-emerging to become successes again.
Consider the cases of Junior Hoilett and Djibril Cisse. Hoilett was rightly lauded as an excellent signing after his excellent season for Blackburn and much was expected of him. Cisse, last year’s hero and a natural born goalscorer if ever there was one, had an excellent pre-season and was expected to continue his form into the new season. Both were given starting berths for the first two league matches and quite rightly so. However, after a bright start, a couple of indifferent performances followed and they both suddenly found themselves warming the bench. Time to contemplate. Time to reflect. Time to doubt.
Both give the appearance of being naturally confident men. Both no doubt sharp dressers and fancy dancers. But unless confidence returns to their games, they could both spend their time out of the team, out of the spotlight and not getting a game.
So against Reading, they were given their chances again. Redemption time perhaps, but with added pressure. Football is not an easy game and it has a habit of kicking a man when he is down. A fragile mind can be so easily exploited. A strong mind can overcome setbacks as if they didn’t exist.
Hoilett was the first to show on 14 minutes, a dazzling run past three defenders and an exquisite finish into the far corner to score his first Rangers goal. The relief was palpable. Confidence surged through his veins and for the remainder of the first half he looked dangerous whenever he got the ball, until tiring late on in the second half.
For Cisse, it was all that much harder. He had a goalscoring header saved from point blank range early on, but thereafter gave the appearance of a man off the pace, off his game and some way from the Cisse that the adoring Rangers’ fans had come to love. Shots and headers were wayward, he was constantly off side and his contribution was negligible. But Cisse is of strong mind and strong self belief and when the ball arrived at his feet 25 yards from goal on 71 minutes, there was a feeling amongst the crowd, no more in hope than expectation, that something might happen. Cisse had other ideas and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner like a bullet, an absolute screamer. The net bulged and Loftus Road erupted. His shirt was off in an instant and he slid on his knees in celebration. Massive relief yet again and proof that he really is too good a player to keep out of the team, which he has consistently proved ever since he joined the club. A confident Cisse will be a danger to every Premier League team and he will be feared. He simply must play.
So whilst Hoilett and Cisse might now be kicking with confidence after their goals against Reading, the team suffered another disappointing defeat. There is much work to be done to restore belief. The management need to cajole and encourage, the big players need to stand up and be counted and inspire others. The players need to perform as if their lives depend upon it and give everything to the cause. The talent is there for all to see, but it is that missing ingredient of confidence that is required to translate the potential into success. If the players stay positive and keep believing, then hopefully the confidence will return and the winning days will be back.