Vassilis Sambrakos writes about the Uruguayan coach’s attempt to instill a winning mentality in the Greek team and the theoretically “indifferent” matches against Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
Among the few, less than fifty football fans who gathered last Monday at the training center of Atromitos to watch the first training session of the National Team, there were some who wondered where I get my courage from and why I find it so meaningful to deal with it. The truth is that I find it difficult to explain to younger people, especially children who are under 18 years old and do not remember Greece being present at a major event. Mainly because they have grown up with the “don’t bother, it’s a coffee shop” stereotype passed down to them by their elders. Throughout time, however, with the exception of the golden period of about 10 years, when involvement with the National Team became a trend, I found it difficult to explain my own mentality. Because we are not a soccer nation that loves the National Team.
These days I am delighted to see footballers declaring that Gustavo Poget has put them through the process of instilling in them a winning mentality. The players state publicly, and players like Kostas Tsimikas, who have no “need” for “public relations” with the coach, that his own mentality and the cultivation of the national culture has strengthened the team spirit. Those of us who studied the National from before, we understood that this effort was intense by John Van’t Schip and his colleagues. And now, thanks to the work that Takis Fyssas is doing on this piece, there is continuity. The Uruguayan coach listened to his dressing room, identified with the collective culture he found and boosted morale. And because he is a winner, he started to spread that winning mentality.
On the eve of the games against Cyprus and Northern Ireland someone asked Poget if he will use these games as a testing ground and opportunities for footballers he has not used. The Uruguayan rolled his eyes. “Of course not, we want victories” was his reflexive reaction. You remember that the National team with 4 out of 4 has secured the first place. Going back in time, I remember a similar conversation I had with Fan’t Schip on the eve of the start of the Nations League, that is, at a time when he had secured nothing. I was telling him that I see these games as an opportunity for the national team to start getting used to winning again. Not that he was indifferent to that, but the Dutchman didn’t have the same hunger to win every game – you could tell he had other priorities, such as optimizing the team’s technique and tactics and their playing style, but also giving opportunities to players who had not been used. If I’m starting to see a difference between the two coaches now that we’re starting and getting to know Poget as a federal coach, it’s just that: the winning mentality. Obviously they both wanted and want to win every game, but the Uruguayan has a glint in his eye and he makes sure to pass it on to his players. This difference is also visible to the naked eye. You see the attitude of one during the course of the matches, you compare it with the attitude of the other and you have the difference in front of you.
Fan’t Ship is a devotee of neutral positive attitude during matches. He tries to watch the games calmly. He was speechless for quite a while. Poget is “raging” and “stirring” even in moments when his team is in front of the score.
Of course, what Poget has behind him are only first impressions – his first four official games. Now, with opponents like Cyprus and Northern Ireland, at a time when he has already “cleaned” the first place, his work in the psychological part, in mentality and psychology is more demanding. It is now that he must “convince” his players that they should not tolerate anything less than two victories. Now is when we will begin to understand if the National Team has entered the phase of consolidating the changes that Poget has brought to its competitive mentality or if we will take steps backwards. Obviously I wish the former. On the one hand because victories are necessary for the ranking and on the other hand because this aura can change the dynamics of the national team at the start of the qualifying phase of the Euro.
The Qatar World Cup starts in two months. Another World Cup that we will experience without the National Team. This makes me very sad. I know that we are a minority of Greek football fans who are really saddened by Greece’s absence from a World Cup, but we can exist and say, at least among ourselves, our pain, along with our sorrow to see it return to the final stage of the next one big event.