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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Anger Mismanagement

The idea that anger is an emotion that will haze an athlete’s perception and affect their performance negatively is a flawed one.

Anger, as Roy Keane discussed in his most recent autobiography, is a form of energy which, utilised correctly, can spur a footballer on; it can increase the workload on the individual and the determination within that makes death appear a more appealing outcome than defeat.

The basketballer Kobe Bryant speaks about this in his documentary Muse which is released this weekend. The American, who was reared in Italy as his journeyman father Joe bounced from club to club, suffered when he was dropped into US education after the family returned in 1991; basketball was his release.

Bryant remembers: “There was a kid named Victor. He approached me during lunch and said "I hear you can play basketball and, yano, I'm the man here, so, it's on”. I was upset that I had moved from Italy, I had left all my friends. I had all this resentment and anger inside of me that I hadn't really let out and so, I demolished this poor kid”.

The Laker states that this was the first time he played fueled on such fury, “but I loved it”. Over the next 25 years Bryant never changed his stripes; he has won five NBA Championships, gathered 17 All Star appearances, two Olympic Golds and is widely recognized as one of the greatest scorers in the history on the sport. Despite all the accolades that stretch across his 6’ 11’’ wingspan, he never forgot Victor’s name.

The other side of the coin is rage.

The aforementioned Keane compellingly dwells on the difference between anger and rage in The Second Half.

The Corkman explains: “With anger there’s a comeback – I’d be able to pull myself back in, if I was angry. But with rage, I’ve gone beyond all that; it’s beyond anger. There’s no control with rage. It’s not good – especially the aftermath. You’re coming down, and it’s a long way to go. The come-down can be shocking in terms of feeling down, or embarrassed by my behaviour, even if I feel that I wasn’t in the wrong”.

“When I’m backed into a corner, when I get into situations, professional or personal, I know, deep down, that when I lose my rag, and I might be in the right – it doesn’t matter– I know I’m going to be the loser”.

Unsurprisingly, Joey Barton has been there and bought the t-shirt.

After tickling Tom Huddlestone’s testicles and receiving a red card in QPR’s 2-1 defeat last weekend, (interim) manager Chris Ramsey began to mention anger management lessons for his captain.

Barton himself has spoken about his issues with anger in the past, putting them down to “my own battle to manage the positivities of anger to my advantage whilst in on the pitch.”

The Evertonian continues: “It’s important to many footballers, yet for me anger can sometimes turn into rage, especially when I feel something is unjust”.

Equating Barton’s most recent red card to previous discretions is as ludicrous as the theory that his constant state of ire holds him back as a footballer. His high profile combustions are scarcer than Keane’s, the Premier League’s greatest midfielder.

The reason for Joey Barton’s struggles on the pitch is merely that he’s not very good.

Barton does not belong sitting in the heart of a Premier League side. With the ball he’s amongst the most hopeless midfielders in the league and, unlike Mile Jedinak, another member of that club, he does little to quell the danger to QPR’s cobweb cladded back line.

Amongst central midfielders to have made at least 15 appearances in the Premiership this season Barton stands third in playing 5.7 accurate long balls per 90 minutes. The damning part here is that of the 33 players eligible here, only Barton, Jedinak, Rangers teammate Karl Henry, Sebastian Larsson, James McArthur and Joe Ledley play more unsuccessful long balls than ones that find their target. Barton tops the league in unsuccessful long passes per 90 with 5.8; almost 1 more than his victim Huddlestone with 4.9.

With regards to more basic facets of the game, the Englishman sits fourth in inaccurate short passes per 90, behind Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song as a result of their ability and adamancy respectively to fit the ball through a mailbox, and also Jedinak.

The Australian’s contribution defensively to Palace however is immense; he makes 3.8 interceptions per 90 to top the league while Barton languishes in tied 25th out of 33 with 1.2. The rest of his figures, while not horrendous are average at best. He is dribbled past 1.5 times per 90, the 20th best in his position in England, while he makes 2.9 tackles per 90, good enough for 14th amongst the 33 players eligible under the criteria.

There are some metrics where Barton appears to impress; among midfielders he makes the second most key passes in the league. Nobody makes more long key passes in the league per 90 than him, while he is second only to Fabregas in short key passes. Despite these numbers, the fact that he only has one assist all season suggests the quality of the shots on the end of these passes are extremely weak.

Along with Steven Gerrard he takes 1.3 shots from outside the box per 90 minutes (behind only Yaya Toure and Ryan Mason); unlike Steven Gerrard he has yet to score during the campaign. Only Kieran Trippier and Scott Dann have taken more inaccurate free-kicks than the 32 year old (23) this year; all of Dann’s are feral thumps up the field and Trippier, unlike Barton, successfully finds a teammate more often than he doesn’t.

The window for the most philosophical footballer in England since Eric Cantona to use his anger as a strength has closed. Barton has enjoyed a noble career and the serious incidents that blighted the first half of his career have disappeared. In the past he has spoken of his intention to manage; Barton began working toward gaining his coaching badges in Ireland last summer.

Nobody will ever care how Barton the manager will handle a footballer like himself. Managing a man like him though, people will pay to see that.

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