Monday, 9 April 2007

Camera Feeds Off Scrambled Eggert

Below are two related articles about Eggert Magnusson and the significance of body language in strong leadership. It comes at a time when Magnusson and Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson are in danger of becoming the Statler and Waldorf of the English Premiership.

The first is taken from this month's FourFourTwo magazine and the latter appeared in last month's Observer Sport Monthly

West Ham on the psychologist's couch

It's late in West Ham United's vital encounter with Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park and the Hammers have managed to gain a 3-2 lead with minutes to go. Moments later, the visitors have plundered two goals to snatch the points. In the stands, Icelandic chairman Eggert Magnusson has his head in his hands. Manager Alan Curbishley is aiming frustrated kicks at his water bottle. The supporters are sitting dumb-struck in their seats. Like Newcastle United's spectacular Premiership capitulation in 1996, it has all the hallmarks of a classic act of self-sabotage.

With the Hammers staring relegation in the face, and reports of dressing-room unrest and egomania rife, what would a sports psychologist do if invited to help?

For a sports psychologist to be invited into a club requires recognition by the management that they may not have all the mental and emotional resources needed to transform a situation. This is not an admission of weakness, but a frank assessment of their strengths. It respects the need for a neutral, unbiased presence, at emotional distance from the in-house shenanigans, that can make frank assessments of both the players and the management.

The first and most important conversation would be with the chairman. Magnusson's body language is that of a man who doesn't hide his feelings. His angst is visible to all. Some may see this as admirable, but the role of the chairman requires coolness and a sense of perspective, sending out a message to the fans that, despite current adversity, all will be well.

This clarity arises from a long-term vision and strategy that has taken all eventualities into account. The chairman mindset is calm and steady: 'On my watch nothing will faze me. I know how to turn this situation around.' It's a sense of certainty that is born out of good, experienced leadership. The chairman has to rise above the ebb and flow of feelings and emotions. Running a football club should not be a way of fulfilling his emotional needs, whether it be the need to be loved, respected, acknowledged or appreciated. A wise leader will never seek to have these needs met in the public arena.

Failure to radiate a cool, certain presence sends out the message that instant success is critical to the future of the club, that any defeat has the potential to send the club spiralling into an uncertain future. This naturally increases the pressure to succeed. Players and fans become aware of the pressure and fear replaces calmness. Under pressure, that fear leads to poor concentration and mistakes. When the going gets tough, cameras and supporters' eyes turn to the stands to observe the chairman's reaction. Thus, Magnusson inadvertently sets the emotional tone for the club. He becomes part of the story, embroiled in the emotional rollercoaster.

For the Hammers to break out of this cycle of self-destruction will require patience and a long-term strategy. It begins with the chairman.

Curbishley losing on all fronts as TV camera crews feed off scrambled Eggert
By Paul Wilson

Perhaps Alan Curbishley never really expected to beat Liverpool on Tuesday - if West Ham are to save themselves it probably won't be at the expense of teams in the Champions League bracket - yet it is a fair bet that the manager did not appreciate the full extent of his problems until he returned home and watched the video.

What might not have been apparent from the technical area was glaringly obvious to the television cameras and the country at large. Curbishley is being upstaged by his boss.

Only last week we were remarking that technical areas have become the new six-yard boxes as far as television is concerned, with the cutaway to the incensed/ecstatic/indignant manager now the money shot cameramen must not miss. Except at West Ham, where Curbishley's somewhat limited range of disappointed gestures is merely a prelude to the smouldering volcano that is Eggert Magnusson in the stand.

Of course it helps, from a televisual point of view, that the Icelandic biscuit millionaire is a dead ringer for Elmer Fudd. But what makes him irresistible is that he attends every game, sits in a prominent seat and howls with anguish every time something goes wrong. This season, that has been quite a lot and one can sense that camera crews are fighting for pitches with a view of the directors' box in anticipation of the day the Hammers either redeem themselves or go down.

Neither Curbishley nor his players need this extra pressure. New owners might be the story of the past couple of seasons, but Roman Abramovich generally simpers in the background while Randy Lerner has hardly been high profile at Aston Villa.

It will be a major surprise if Liverpool's eventual buyers turn up for every game to gurn for the camera, and in this respect at least Manchester United's American owners are absolute models of discretion and respectfully kept distance. The fact that United are not currently giving the Glazers much to complain about may not be entirely unrelated.

Magnusson resembles a gambler who ostentatiously places a large bet then phones the jockey before the race to make sure he knows how much he has riding on him. Appearances can be deceptive, but body language should not be underestimated either. Maybe Magnusson should watch a few tapes.

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