Thursday, February 4, 2010

Confidence is invisible

All the analysis in the world goes out the window when a top team finally begins to exude confidence, the factors for which are numerous and inabsolute.

Conjecturing about tactical tinkering, player shifting, and behind the scenes turmoil loses all significance when the side, as a whole, suddenly coalesces to finally produce flowing football and gritty maturity.

Such is the case at Manchester United. But it's hard to garner a clear rendering of their real efficiency if all you consume are the easy, prevalent headlines borne from their results.

Everyone wants to root for Rooney, and it's easy to make an argument for him being the alpha and omega, et al, when his goals are plentiful. In truth, United's most consistent players through the tortuous first half of the term were Evra and Fletcher, which is reflective of the problems they were having going forward.

The over-reliance on an inconsistent Scholes, injured Berbatov, and patchy Rooney were closest to the prime reasons United were playing unattractively. In six loses this season, United were shutout in five, managing a tally only against Man City in a 2-1 loss in January.

Most importantly, though, even when they were winning, they did so without too much aplomb, rarely scoring early, often scoring late, only then piling on goals as their opponents were stretched and beaten.

But after brazenly dismissing Arsenal away, and ultimately besting City over two legs—which sandwiched a 4-0 destruction of Hull City—the confidence in the side is visceral. But where did this new-found belief manifest?

Do individual performances—like Rooney's recent and eventual turn of form—inspire the rest of the team?

United's hood ornament has finally hit stride this year, driving at defenders and making correct forward runs, his passing and dribbling sharper, brimming with confidence. Perhaps his influence by example led the rest of the team to play in kind.

Or is this simply the culmination of a training regime specifically tailored to provide physical—and somehow—mental peaks in performance as spring unfurls?

United have always had a history—perhaps more a legend—of finding synergy as the year changes, embarking on rapacious runs to start each new year into March and April. Alex Ferguson claims their approach to training is intended to bear fruit during this period.

Maybe a brief chain of emotional results against historic rivals—Leeds, Man City, Arsenal—fosters the galvanization of the squad. Or does it result from it?

It may be mere coincidence that Rooney, Nani, and Scholes found form at the same time while Fletcher, Evra, Valencia, and Rafael continue to excel and put in useful shifts. Even Ji-Sung and Carrick look to be finally on song this year.

Perhaps United at current are simply overachieving. Only a month ago the squad looked thin, Rooney looked tired, Nani was abysmal, Park was useless, Carrick, ever average, and Scholes ineffectual.

But all that appears to change when a squad finds conviction.

Where it comes from, though, remains consigned to speculation, sure to continue here and everywhere else as we scramble to rationalize trends, derived from major stories and minor rumors, to form a cohesive rendering of player form, that, like life itself, can often appear to hinge on confidence alone.


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