23 games in all competitions without scoring. This is the statistic that sticks to the skin of Antoine Griezmann. Inefficiency pointed out at each exit of the French striker. A bad phase that would almost make tricolor supporters forget that the number 7 of the Blues is the third top scorer in the selection. Periods of scarcity, almost all attackers know. Karim Benzema, Erling Haaland, Harry Kane or Arkadiusz Milik, no one is spared. But what is going on in the minds of these scorers who can no longer find the net?
The center-forward position is surely one of the most exposed. Constantly scrutinized, the striker has a heavy responsibility: to finish the actions to make his team win. A particular role, often put in the foreground during the ceremonies of individual awards. Nearly 41% of the 66 Golden Balls awarded were for example gleaned by advanced attackers. But this position of 9, so much fantasized by beginners kicking leather for the first time as well as amateurs amazed in front of their television, is not always rosy. The life of an attacker is cyclical: one day, he is celebrated as a hero after an important pawn; the next, he is jeered after a failed match. “I wish a lot of people to experience this non-linear side. It’s the best feelingassures Nolan Roux, 73 goals on the clock in Ligue 1. Between two matches, everything can change, there is no truth, and that’s what makes the salt of the trade. Sometimes in training you don’t put one foot in front of the other and at the weekend you score twice. »
But when poor performances follow one another, doubt sets in. After having achieved a prosperous season with Real Madrid and having planted 15 goals with the Blues in 45 selections, Karim Benzema chained more than 1222 minutes without scoring with the tricolor jersey from 2012 to 2013. The future Ballon d’Or is not not the only one to have experienced such a shortage. Olivier Giroud remained silent throughout the 2018 World Cup. A lack of efficiency which has been widely criticized. A situation experienced 20 years earlier by Stéphane Guivarc’h: “I suffered from being told that I didn’t score a single goal during the World Cup. But the person who really knows football knows how it goes. The pattern in 1998, for number 9, was not the most obvious. But it is sure that in these moments it thinks, we lose confidence. We don’t do the right thing, we make bad choices and it can get complicated.” relates the native of Concarneau, twice top scorer in Ligue 1.
“One day against Bordeaux, I shot three meters above. It’s a very simple gesture! In a better moment, I probably would have controlled, pulled gently, and that’s the end of it. After this failure, it took me two or three days to recover. When that happens to you, you feel a bit alone. »
When impatience poisons the mind
In a world where statistics are becoming ever more important, both the striker and the clubs are struggling to get lines of figures. Bought to score, the center-forward must quickly recoup the millions invested in his apple. When he enters the field, only one thing obsesses him: the opposing cage. So when the ball no longer wants to cross the line, he can force things, even if it means distorting his style of play by attempting shots that won’t even hit the target. The predominant feeling in these situations is impatience. A perfect ingredient for memorable misses. “When I was at Guingamp, I missed the inevitable against Bordeauxremembers Roux, former darling of Francis-Le Blé returned today to Châteauroux. Lucas Deaux makes a cross shot, the goalkeeper touches it, it bounces off a defender, I find myself three meters from the goal. Costil is down, and I’m so eager to score that I rush… I shot three meters above. It’s a very simple gesture! In a better moment, I probably would have controlled, pulled gently and said nothing more. After this failure, it took me two or three days to recover. When that happens to you, you feel a bit alone. »
Boons for social networks that instantly seize the misfortune of the attacker. “You do a job that is publicized, the failures are often more highlighted than the good thingshe continues. I don’t have Twitter, but I haven’t received any messages following my action against Bordeaux, so what do you want to tell people? Yes I missed, I was not ashamed of that. I was just ashamed of myself at that time. »
“When I worked with Bafé Gomis or Lisandro López, I used mental visualization. I made a montage of their goals, their beautiful actions with their favorite music. » Gerald Baticle
Blower, JPP tapes and mental work
The management of shortages depends on each attacker, but all agree on a method to score again: repeat their ranges. After or before games, during warm-ups, hitting the leather over and over again seems like the silver bullet to becoming the streak scorer of yesteryear. A technique not always favored by coaches. “At Auxerre, when we entered the field, I didn’t warm up with the group, I preferred to take the balls to shoot on goal. Once, Guy Roux grilled me and confiscated them. I took myself a blower, he was afraid that I would slam myself” laughs Guivarc’h, who used to watch the tapes of golazos of Jean-Pierre Papin in times of doubt.
For his part, Gérald Baticle, former coach of the OL attackers, had his formula to make the Lyon scorers roar again: “When I was working with Bafé Gomis or Lisandro López and I felt that a lack of confidence was going to happen, I used mental visualization. I would have a montage of their goals, their beautiful actions with their favorite music made and then we would watch it togetherremembers the coach of Angers. We also communicated a lot before the matches. I asked them: “Hey, how are you going to score tonight?” As they tried to answer me, they imagined how they were going to score a goal, they visualized it and then they had to think of a double or a hat-trick, which brought them into a very positive mental imagery. »
“I have done several sessions with players for shortages and as soon as the nets shake again, everything is forgotten. It’s pretty crazy to see. » Sophie Huguet, sports psychologist employed by an L1 club
A gentle, human method, but unfortunately not always privileged. In these difficult situations, many 9s take refuge in work and withdraw into themselves. Talk about it with your coach or teammates? We could never take these confessions as an admission of weakness and end up on the bench in the next match. “As a striker, I’ve always been used to being alone in front and keeping my emotions to myself” , recognizes Nolan Roux. The other alternative would be to talk to his family about it, but even there, the striker kicks in touch: “We were talking about it with my relatives, but they weren’t the ones who were going to score the goals for me. You have to ask yourself the right questions, watch the matches, see what he missed, rely on what was not to bounce back and regain this efficiency. sends Stéphane Guivarc’h.
Clubs like Stade Rennes and LOSC work or have worked with psychologists to maximize the performance of their athletes. Valuable outside help, subject to professional secrecy, to unload the accumulated frustrations. “My job is going to be to get back to basics with the goalscorers and find out what they like about scoring. I have done several sessions with players for shortages and as soon as the nets shake again, everything is forgotten. It’s pretty crazy to seedescribes Sophie Huguet, sports psychologist employed by a Ligue 1 club. My role is precisely to tell them that they must continue to work on their self-confidence, because if it dissipates so easily, it could come back in the season. I try to consolidate their confidence with this goal. Our practice with footballers today is not negligible when you see the pressure there is, the number of matches. Mental health is taken into account, but there are still a lot of things that need to change. Most players have come to see me and have no taboos about working on it, so we’re moving forward. »
For its part, the Angers SCO does not yet have this string to its bow, but is starting to think about it seriously: “It will be part of the evolution of my staff in the future to rely even more on this, even at some point to have a daily resource in mental preparation” , assures the Angevin coach. An important axis of progression to allow attackers to quickly find their way to the net while feeling better in their crampons.
By Thomas Morlec
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