LIKE anything in life, so much of football is played out in the head.
We expect miracles from players every time they take to the pitch but there are a million and one reasons why that can’t always be the case.
Top of the list: footballers are human. Just like anyone else in whatever profession they turn their hands to, they’ll have off days. Despite all the training, all the preparation, there will be times when players miss chances. When they misplace passes. When they make the wrong decision. When it’s just not their day.
Yeah, but they’re paid millions…
Like that matters.
It’s one of the reasons why football is what it is. Why we all keep going. Keep paying. Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. It’s unpredictable. And on the day anything can happen. Especially in the cup.
With all that in mind then, quite why serial shit-talker Clinton Morrison decided to cancel out any potential ‘magic of the cup’ with a motivational speech to Liverpool players back in 2001 is anyone’s guess.
The swaggering Morrison, now of Mickleover Sports FC then of Crystal Palace, decided to shoot his mouth off after Palace won the first leg of a League Cup semi-final at Selhurst Park 2-1.
He scored one of the goals but should have finished on the losing side as both Michael Owen and Emile Heskey missed one-on-ones in a game Liverpool dominated.
Owen was eventually subbed for Jari Litmanen, and the Finn teed up Vladimir Smicer for the Reds’ goal.
It was, however, as the old saying goes, only half time. But Morrison couldn’t help himself. He told the media: “Heskey missed a few and Owen missed a few. On a better day they would have put them away. But I was thinking, I wish I had some of the chances they had. I would have put at least two of them away.”
Plenty remember that bit. But Morrison went further — even offering advice to Owen via the Press.
“Owen has not been the same since his injury problems,” he added. “I think he is just a bit low on confidence at the moment with the new signing coming in and he is worried about his place.
“He is slowly coming back and getting his pace and sharpness back but it will take time. He has got a lot of doubters but I had doubters at the start of the season, every striker does and all I can say to him is get your head down, hit the target and you will score goals eventually.”
To recap on the madness of this. Owen scored 179 goals in 306 appearances for Liverpool. He won 89 caps for England, scoring 40. Morrison? He managed 124 goals in 570 games but only 86 of those were in the Premier League. For Ireland he scored nine goals in 35 appearances.
You often hear it said that all this kind of thing doesn’t matter. That players are above it. That they don’t care, they don’t listen and they just play the game.
It’s all about as believable as those that say crowds don’t influence performances.
Morrison’s comments undoubtedly had an effect. In Steven Gerrard’s book, My Autobiography he says: “Crystal Palace are a decent club, but back then they had a complete prick of a centre forward. Clinton Morrison fancied himself so much he should have married a mirror.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading in the papers. None of the players could. It did our heads in.”
Gerrard also revealed that Morrison’s quotes were – like those tales of football folklore – pinned to the dressing room wall.
He added: “No footballer needs extra motivation. I certainly don’t. But seeing all those headlines on the Anfield dressing room wall, and knowing Cocky Clinton was in the room down the corridor, certainly fired our players up that night.”
In the second leg at Anfield – on this day 16 years ago – Liverpool were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes. Morrison’s every touch was booed by The Kop. The Reds eventually ran out 5-0 winners, Smicer, Danny Murphy (2), Igor Biscan and Robbie Fowler scoring the goals.
A month later Liverpool faced Birmingham City in the League Cup final in Cardiff. A 73,500 crowd watched Liverpool labour to victory, eventually beating The Blues on penalties.
It proved to be the catalyst for a memorable season, the Reds going on to secure a memorable trophy treble alongside third place in the Premier League.
Jamie Carragher said of the game: “It was my first trophy with the senior Liverpool team and it was the catalyst for us to go on and win the cup Treble. Gerard Houllier told us to remember how winning felt and urged us to use it as an inspiration. It was and we did.”
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool could perhaps use similar inspiration. To achieve that they must first overcome Southampton tomorrow night. Where’s Clinton Morrison when you need him?