Lisa Fallon: Hard work the basic requirement for every successful team

The gulf in that vital area between the two sides at Anfield on Tuesday was striking

Hard work beats talent, if talent doesn’t work hard.

On Tuesday evening, we witnessed a hapless Manchester United performance against a Liverpool side riding the crest of a wave that could see them win the quadruple.

The big talking point after the game was not how hard Liverpool worked in and out of possession to retain and regain the ball. Instead, the post-match discussions centred heavily on United players appearing to make little effort to participate in the match.

For all the tactical, technical, and mental expectations that we have of top-level players, a trait missing from that list is often the factor that makes the difference in games.

Hard work. Raw desire. It sounds so basic and is rarely referenced on coaching courses, but no matter how good a player or coach is, they can be beaten by someone who outworks them.

After coming on as an 84th-minute substitute, Hannibal Mejbri almost picked up two yellow cards in quick succession for robust challenges. This made the teenager an outlier in this United team. He so obviously wanted to compete, where others did not.

Sky TV pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville praised the Tunisia international for "putting in a tackle" which really had not been something we'd seen much of, particularly in a fixture that is always a standout, feisty rivalry in the football calendar.

But this was a damp squib. United’s performance lacked intensity, hunger, pride and ambition. All the traits we associate with United teams down the decades.

Last Saturday, Paul Pogba was booed by Manchester United fans as he left the pitch in the 74th minute. They believe that the World Cup winner hasn't done enough for the club. So they let him know as he was subbed off.

Accepting defeat is very difficult but fans and managers can swallow it, if they feel their team gives everything on the pitch.

Getting to the top level is not easy, with the training and commitment levels required often underestimated. But whether it justifies the salary that players are on or to show they care enough about the badge on the front of the jersey, hard work is the basic requirement.

Right things

I don’t enjoy seeing players berated for mistakes, particularly when they are trying to do the right things but it’s hard to defend players who do not work hard.

I went to Shels v Bohs on Monday. Damien Duff’s charges were soundly beaten 4-1 but I doubt many of the Tolka Park faithful will be questioning the work ethic of the starting XI. Unlike the poor Mancunians pouring out of Anfield this week.

Much has been written about the identity of clubs, teams and their managers over the past few weeks but fans have always identified with their team on a highly emotional level.

We all remember those first steps we took into a football ground, the day the game captured our hearts and the day that one club embedded in our souls. It becomes like family, it’s part of who you are and no matter how they make you feel, you can’t change them.

Your club is for life. The day you wear that first replica kit is the day you commit unconditionally. You are identified with and by your club. From that day onwards, you will work hard to support your team. Be that financially, emotionally, even tactically you may need to work out strategies to support them, but you will always find a way.

That fundamental, deep-seated need to do what it takes to win is embedded in the origins of the game.

From those days of ‘folk football’ back in the 14th and 15th centuries, when local villages took each other on (men, women and children) in a sport of few rules and an animal bladder.

The story goes that the hardy individual who could land the bladder on the balcony or entrance of the opposite parish’s church would win the day for their locality.

Indeed, the ‘sport’ was subject to numerous bans due to the violence involved while history documents an even earlier version where the ‘ball’ (a rock) symbolised the sun and the captain of the losing team was sacrificed to the gods.

In the 19th century, as a result of roads being built and rules being devised, the games evolved to being played on mapped out rectangular areas and teams wore uniforms. The regulated sport meant participant numbers were reduced so locals who didn’t play on the team, supported the team.

Having worked in a number of elite environments, the common thread for every successful team is the hard work that goes into the preparation of both body and mind, day in day out.

Recently, a player said to me that “full-time training is hard work”. I was surprised that he was surprised.

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