Confidence is a wondrous thing. Anyone, with the right frame of mind, can achieve anything in this world, let alone on the football pitch. Given the pressure placed upon our players, albeit with unprecedented financial reward, little could prepare you for the derision of 40,000 fans.
Villa have been as guilty as any of making the same mistakes repeatedly, failing to identify the players in need of protection or taking the steps necessary to avoid eroding their confidence to the point of no return. It is often bizarre how managers will persevere with players so bereft of confidence, when giving them a little bench warming time or a different role in the side might have massive benefits.
Casting my eye back, Stilyan Petrov was played mercilessly too long in his early Villa days before O’Neill realised he was destroying the future club captain’s confidence. Classic O’Neill stubborness that almost destroyed Petrov. Stan was eventually dropped completely from the squad, swiftly returned the week later, only to be unceremoniously hauled off at half time due to a “crisis of confidence”.
These days, we rightly recall Petrov for his fine years of tireless service thereafter, but I remember the jeers and sarcastic applause when he was withdrawn in those difficult weeks. He was cheered off the pitch as though we’d scored a goal.
At this juncture it’s easy to bring things to the present day. Great examples of three of our current flock lacking confidence are Benteke, Wiemann and loanee Tom Cleverley. Whilst both Benteke & Wiemann’s collossal loss of self belief I would largely lay at the door of Lambert, we as fans, particularly with Wiemann can change the tone if we choose.
Whilst Benteke seems to thrive off goals (I’ll leave him aside), Wiemann’s role in the team involves running, chasing and often acting as the bit-part in attacks.
Wiemann interests me, largely because of his industry, but more-so how his body language changes as his confidence drains. Wiemann will became visibly scowling, almost in an attempt to to disguise the drooped shoulders and awkwardness when in close proximity to the home crowd. I’ve never seen a player absorb the criticism so visibly – or indeed – celebrate so passionately after a goal. A true confidence player.
I would also draw comparisons between Wiemann and Petrov’s struggles. Petrov, in an attempt to re-win fans appreciation, embarked upon attempting “Hollywood passes” or trying things which were outside of his ordinary attributes. By diverging down a path you’re not familiar with, it opens you up to making not just the same mistakes, but a whole load of new ones.
Wiemann is no different, appearing unclear on his role or trying to force successful elements into his game under Lambert. More recently, a desperate attempt at a corner against Stoke springs to mind. This only serves to illustrate the above paragraph even further.
The recent resurrection of Tom Cleverley is where I would draw inspiration. Also, the use of the word resurrection is not merely for effect, as the turnaround could be something not far from miraculous should the trend continue.
Cleverley arrived at Villa heavily scarred by ridicule and abuse from the football community, owing to scapegoat like inspection of his Manchester United & England performances. Tom has looked awkward from day one, thrust into a relegation battle & suffered badly from what must be assumed were team instructions to retain possession at all costs.
It made Cleverley (& others) impotent to rehabilitate their confidence, dig into their footballing minds and reveal the skills which lead to their being developed through the youth systems of the finest clubs in the game. And so, predictably in hindsight, Cleverley either played games out anonymously or was hauled off to derision week after week.
I’ve often tried to ponder what it must be like. It would be like all of your work colleagues, investors, sponsors, friends and family standing at the door as you left work, slow hand clapping, mocking, disapproving, whilst expecting you to come back tomorrow and do a great job. It’s not a motivational technique known to deliver great results I’m sure.
However, under Sherwood, Cleverley has begun to express himself, now released from the shackles of Lambert and company. His performance against Stoke drew the eye, not just for the better football, but his work rate was exceptional. Few hold anything personal against Tom, especially whilst he wears a Villa shirt & it was nice to see his applause reciprocated when he came off.
It is this lift that hopefully Sherwood and the coaching staff can instill in Wiemann. There is an industrious, tricky attacker inside that young Austrian. They will obviously want to harness that in our run of games until the seasons end.
So in the spirit of the ongoing battle we are in, we as fans can play our part to rewrite the script. It need not be a time for scapegoats and excuses. It can be a time to draw a line and do things differently. Cleverley & Petrov are the perfect citations.
We must back Wiemann, or any other struggling Villa player for that matter, or we might as well sit in the away end or play with 10. This is not to say that criticism isn’t warranted or that our players should be immune from it, but, we must remember our reason for following our great club.
To support them.