The sport world can often become intertwined. It’s why Sir Ian Botham played both pro cricket and football and why Olympic athletes may make their way into the NFL – and when it comes to football management, the art of poker could not be any closer.
Sit yourself down at a poker table full of pros and you can almost taste the psychological warfare; it’s what makes it great. Trade that with football and it’s exactly the same. Whether it be in the White Hart Lane press room, the dressing room, or even on the training pitch, psychology plays a big part in how Mauricio Pochettino operates.
With whole teams of staff working on everything from fitness, to nutrition – after all healthy body, healthy mind – it’s important that all the players are feeling like winners. As Tottenham fans know more than anyone, football is a confidence sport.
The manager has admitted that working on a player’s mentality is by far a more difficult task than the everyday physical or tactical aspects. He has actively voiced his interest in trying to develop some new habits for the club that will ultimately lead to happier players off the pitch, and therefore hopefully better players on. He wants to change the current mentality of his team and allow them the freedom to openly discuss issues and concerns. He even goes as far as to encourage players to hold their own meetings where they would sit together and candidly talk about the good and bad things in all aspects of game.
And that fits exactly into the life of a poker pro Daniel Negreanu, a man who sits at the top of the All-Time money list in the sport, once claimed that poker is all about what’s going on in the mind. This is why the likes of Ronaldo and Spurs legend Teddy Sheringham have been able to cross over, because of what was instilled in them as players.
And the Argentinian manager thinks he’s the man to turn his players into strong-minded winners. Just as a poker player may have a few bad breaks, it’s all about not getting stuck in a rut, and the same applies to Spurs.
This has particularly been the case following mid-week European trips. In the early stages of the season, Pochettino’s men lost to Liverpool, West Brom, and Newcastle all following mid-week games – a run which would put doubt in even the most confident of pros. Yet he continued to instill belief in his team, and that bad run ended just weeks later beating Everton.
Although of course, it isn’t just the players who need to have the nouse of a poker player: that unpredictability, the mystique of your opposition not quite knowing what’s coming next. Pochettino has that in abundance, from his days when he transformed Southampton into a solid Premier League side, to Tottenham, where his attacking play can be both unpredictable and enthralling. You only have to look at the recent fixture versus Chelsea to see that.
Up against a master tactician himself in Jose Mourinho, a man who would certainly be no slouch at the poker table, he stunned fans across the country with a 5-3 win which resulted in only Chelsea’s second loss of the season.
His attacking style unsettled their North London rivals, and can almost be seen as an intimidation tactic to put them on the ropes. It’s what top poker pro Phil Ivey does at the tables.
And it’s no secret that Tottenham’s London based arch-rivals Arsenal also regularly employ certain psychological techniques similar to this. It’s all thanks to Arsenal’s long time manager Arsene Wenger at the helm, spearheading the numerous occasions when he has spoken or commented in a certain manner in order to frustrate and intimidate his opponents. And understanding the bluff is how you can really get a hold on how your rivals think, which will lead you in helping to predict their next move. An absolute must in the games of football and poker.
Football has long been a psychological battle both on and off the pitch. Managers play out their hand as best they can to defeat an opponent. That could even happen in a press conference – we all remember when Rafael Benitez was rattled by Sir Alex Ferguson’s words almost gifting the Premier League title in 2009 – whilst Pochettino finds the training pitch and mastering an aggressive attacking style to take an advantage over opponents. And in a world where more and more psychologists are joining the backroom staff at clubs, that’s only going to continue, making the sport brighter, more precise, and most likely to create even more rivalries.