Daniel Gregory’s weekly column: How important are the mind games?

The master of the mind games - Sir Alex Ferguson. But how much do they effect what goes on during the 90 minutes?
The master of the mind games - Sir Alex Ferguson. But how much do they effect what goes on during the 90 minutes?

IT seems almost synonymous that with the clocks going forward and the spring sunshine rearing its head that Manchester United manager Sir Alex cranks up the pressure on his rivals and the mind games commence.

Almost every year as we enter the business end of the season and the title race hots up, Fergie just turns up the heat on his rivals, using his press conferences to great effect.

There have been many well documented cases of managers cracking up under this pressure that the best boss in the history of English football seems to be able to conjure up.

There was the infamous ‘I’d love it if we beat them’ rant by former Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan in the 1995-96 title run-in, and of course the Rafael Benitez press conference where he produced a list of rants about Ferguson and United.

Is it a coincidence that United won the league both seasons? Or was it just that United had a better team on both occasions and are better versed to a title run-in than the two other clubs?

The Daily Mail carried a superb column by Martin Samuel online about mind games in football after Manchester City drew 1-1 with Stoke City thanks in part to a belter from Peter Crouch.

Samuel suggests that mind games, while inevitable at this time of the season, aren’t as influencial as the press like to make out.

I’d be inclined to agree with him.

The reason United charged down Newcastle in 95-96 wasn’t because Fergie wound up Keegan and he lost it - it was because United are seasoned title contenders and went the distance better.

Samuel writes: “Before the mind games had ever begun, Manchester United had turned around 15 points. So getting in Keegan’s head wasn’t the clincher; getting in behind his back four was the key.”

So is Man City boss Roberto Mancini (pictured right) cracking under the pressure being applied by Fergie in the press? In my opinion he isn’t.

Is he feeling the heat of City’s first bid to win the Premier League? Most definitely.

City have their problems at present. The fatigue and drop in form of Sergio Aguero and David Silva, the return of their trouble-making Argentinian Carlos Tevez and the clear problems with Mario Balotelli.

It seems the title race will come down to United’s trip to the Etihad on Monday April 30. It clearly won’t come down to what Fergie says to reporters at his weekly press call.

Mind games are clearly a part of the game, and there is nobody better at using them to their full advantage than Sir Alex.

He knows just what to say and when to say it. But whether or not they have a profound effect on what goes on when the players cross the white line is another matter.

Mancini is under pressure, yes. But that is mainly down to the possibility of a trophy-less season at big spending City, and surely the chance of the sack if that occured. Not a few choice words from Fergie in the newspapers.