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Is there something at Stamford Bridge that causes heralded footballers to play below their strength?

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY 
By Jide Ayegbusi

What runs through your mind each time you see the £50 million prized Torres on the pitch? What about the retired Shevchenko or our own John Michael Obinna?

Well, for me, one thing is common among the three; they came to Chelsea and lost their needed confidence. You will agree with me that confidence is a vital mind tool that professional players rely on daily. In fact, confidence is central to success in all aspects of the game of soccer. But why did these above mentioned players’ confidence level suddenly drop as soon as they stepped into the Stamford Bridge?

Andriy Shevchenko was the cynosure of all eyes while playing for AC Milan. To date, he is the seventh-highest goal scorer in Champions League history with 48 goals. With a tally of 175 goals scored for Milan, Shevchenko is the second most prolific player in the history of the club, and is also the all-time top scorer of the Derby della Madonnina, derby between Milan and their local rivals Internazionale with 14 goals.

Shevchenko's outstanding performance while with Milan earned him the prestigious Ballon d'Or award in 2004, becoming the third Ukrainian, after Oleh Blokhin and Ihor Belanov, to receive it. He was chiefly responsible for Milan winning the 2003 UEFA Champions League title.

Little did the Ukrainian know he was soon to lose his confidence when he made an exciting move for a record transfer fee of £30.8 million, topping Michael Essien's transfer fee from the previous year and also breaking the record for a player signed by an English club, to Chelsea in 2006.  Note that Chelsea had earlier in 2005 offered a world record sum of €75.2 million and striker Hernán Crespo to Milan in exchange for Shevchenko which the Italians blatantly rejected.

Within a short time at Chelsea, the phenomenal Shevchenko we used to know at Milan was surplus to requirements. In fact, the situation was so bad that he enjoyed a long time of inactivity on the bench. To save the player from an imminent doomed career, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani offered to take Shevchenko back to the San Siro and the player was loaned back to his old club for the 08/09 season. It was later discovered that Chelsea never recycled the Ukrainian to taste, as he failed to score any league goal and only scored two goals in 26 appearances, starting only nine of those games. At the end of the season, Milan confirmed that Shevchenko would be returning to Chelsea for the final year of his four-year contract.

Torres was another embodiment of endowment at Liverpool. A former colleague of the Spaniard, Jamie Carragher recently doubted whether Torres will be a major part of Mourinho's plans this season as he's lost the form that saw him score 65 goals in 91 Premier League appearances for Liverpool.

"I've played with Torres at Old Trafford and he tortured Nemanja Vidic, he totally took him to the cleaners on this pitch in 2009. You wouldn't have swapped him for anyone. But now he can't even get on the pitch ahead of André Schürrle, who is only a winger. For me, in terms of an individual player, I don't think we'll ever see Torres come back to being the player we saw a few years ago against Vidic at Old Trafford," Carragher said.

The Spaniard footballer’s prowess caught my attention while he was with Atlético Madrid, progressing through their youth system to the first team squad. He made his first team debut in 2001 and finished his time at the club having scored 75 goals in 174 La Liga appearances. He later joined Liverpool in 2007 and was in no time the first player since Robbie Fowler in the 95/96 season to score more than 20 league goals in a season. Torres later on became the fastest player in Liverpool history to score 50 league goals.

The player’s biting spirit was lost immediately he joined Chelsea in January 2011 for a record British transfer fee of £50 million, which made him the most expensive Spanish player in history. It is as if the former Liverpool gallant left his dribbling, bamboozling, and scoring sense at Anfied. The terrible situation continues till date notwithstanding the player’s change of look. The striker who most Chelsea fans and non fans prefer to often time grimly and jeeringly call ‘£50 million’ is yet to inspire the whole world as he used to while in Liverpool. What happens to his confidence? Only Torres can answer that!

John Obi Mikel is also another victim of lost confidence at Chelsea. In fact, Obi was so hot that Chelsea had to fight the Red Devils to secure the service of the player who won the Silver Ball after being voted the 2005 FIFA Youth Championships second best player behind Lionel Messi. Mikel has appeared for Chelsea more than 285 times but could only score three flimsy goals.

Though his avid loyalists have severally claimed that he plays according to the coaches’ instructions, but the questions remain: which coach would penalise his player for self initiated creativity and luminous skills? Would he be bought by Chelsea if his recent forms were what he displayed in the 2005 FIFA under-20 world cup? If the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole and other defenders do hunger for goals and enjoying scoring, why would Mikel who is a midfielder continue to draw backward on the pitch?

 We do sincerely hope Mikel will grab any opportunity that comes his way outside the club to enjoy regular playing time and regains his confidence.

If the truth must be told Demba Ba, Victor Moses and Romelu Lukaku were spectacular in their previous seasons not with Chelsea and now that another season has commenced and the future at Chelsea is looking gloomy, they should be advised to humbly part ways with the Blues before the transfer window closes or go by the way of the aforementioned players.

Confidence is indeed important in the game of soccer and if a big club is known for killing such, won’t you rather go for a lower one and keep your self-belief?

 

Jide Ayegbusi is a Psychologist. He can be reached via phone and Email: +2348036566809(sms only), informjiday@yahoo.com

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