THE England rugby squad that won the World Cup in 2003 had a team shout they used at pressure moments in games. Eventually it grew and became second nature for them, but early on, they’d all say, “TCUP”. It stood for “Think Correctly Under Pressure”.
When the pressure’s on in big sporting tests, you see, and when fine margins decide ties, the ability to stay calm and think about a. what the problem is, and b. how to solve it, is often what sets teams aside. The first time they realised it was working was an away game in a howling gale against the All Blacks. They’d had two men sent off, with ten minutes to go, and they were penned in their own defensive third, with set piece after set piece putting on the squeeze, layering on the pressure. They won.
Later, they reached a world cup final, turning two games from scary half time deficits on the way, and played the home side on their own turf plus a partisan referee who ruled almost everything he could in the Aussies’ favour in the final. They won. When it came to the crunch, they were able to think correctly under pressure.
The point of all this? Liverpool are starting to do that.
In the space of two weeks, we’ve seen two pretty shocking refereeing performances (Sunderland, West Ham) where the side’s been given plenty of excuses to roll over and accept its fate. Plenty of scope for the players to feel sorry for themselves. Plenty of chances to deflect responsibility from themselves, and to blame others for their inability to solve the problems in front of them.
At Upton Park, Steve Peters was clearly visible in the tunnel before kick off again. But while we never saw him again in the flesh, he was just as visible when the boys came out again after half time. Rodgers brought on Lucas, calm settled over the side and its approach, and once again, they solved the problems in front of them.
At the end of the game, Gerrard said, “I think if you go back a couple of years, you would have found a side that would have felt sorry for themselves and sulked and that would have affected them in the second half. But the manager was fantastic – he told us to forget about it and that there was nothing we could change.”
He was right. That’s pure Steve Peters, and that’s thinking correctly under pressure. They put the incident behind them and collectively moved on. When you nail that ability, it’s a special, rare quality – the kind the early 80s side boasted maybe more than any other domestic side in history. They went to Rome, where they paid off referees, and they won the European Cup in their house.
We’re starting to show that quality. I say ‘starting to’. It’ll take time to develop. But the side’s really starting to show patience and calculation when it matters.
West Ham did the one thing that’s thrown Liverpool more than anything else in recent times. They discarded all notion of actual Association Football and wholly ceded the midfield in favour of players who could lob a floated ball into the six yard box or thereabouts, and others who could throw limb and body in the general direction of the ball. Australian Rules Football. But we dealt with it. We’re increasingly able to deal with it, and with anything else we’re faced with. We have a problem, and we think, and we solve it, be it via calm and patient precision and skill, or a blitzkrieg of power and physicality.
Forget the league for a minute. That’s a foundation that’ll carry us to challenge after challenge in the coming seasons if the club does the right things around it.
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda