To praise or condemn: why the Germans do so well at football compared to the English

By Tony Attwood

There is an interesting article today in Süddeutsche Zeitung – the Munich newspaper, and one of the largest daily newspapers in Germany which has the headline “How praise helps people out of the crisis.”It is a piece that rather interestingly links to this morning’s article on Untold Another fine victory for the anti-Arsenal Arsenal. But sadly it seems, they never learn for it begins…

“Money wears off quickly as a reward, appreciation is crucial. If this is missing, the performance drops. Even those of rock-rich football players”.

The argument is that being noticed and feeling wanted is important to everyone whether one is a low level employee doing a menial job or a top boss.  If the individual does not feel wanted then his/her performance level declines.

Two Bayern Munich players are considered: Thomas Müller and Arturo Vidal.  Having scored 32 goals in 49 games in 2015/16 Muller sank to nine in 42 last season. The article describes him as “creeping lost between the penalty areas,  back and forth.”

Meanwhile, “Vidal appeared as a sad veteran who quarrelled with himself and fell prey to various earthly temptations.”

Then, the paper says, in October the “player whisperer” (an interesting variation on the horse whisperer and a phrase I really must note for the future)  Jupp Heynckes came along and “performed a kind of flash healing of the mind.”   Vidal demands, shouts and scolds as he used to, in a way that gives the Bayern fans pleasure and horrifies the opposition.  Müller picks himself off the ground and performs in a way that defines both the statistics and the normal restrictions imposed by one’s anatomy to get a  5-0 win against Beşiktaş.

Speaking about this the article continues…

“It’s about the right balance between effort and recognition,” says Peter Henningsen, head of psychosomatic studies at the Technical University of Munich – this being the study of the link between the mind and the boy.  “If this balance is not right, it can lead to a crisis, in which people do not feel adequately valued.  Then their performance decrease, and the likelihood of disease increases.”

For players the solution is being believed in.  For in this line of work psychologists often find patients with symptoms that are hard to define and tie down, which are often related to being valued.

Of course being paid a lot is a way of being valued, but for most footballers, so the argument goes,  appreciation is crucial. “I think he’s an outstanding player,” Jupp Heynckes said recently about Vidal.  And he also said, “that’s just Müller – he can do it”.

This sort of positive commentary is what football is often about in Germany, even when players are not delivering, but it is much rarer in England for such positives to be mentioned about players who are having a more difficult time.

In Germany the appreciation is mutual. Müller raves about the “best man on the sidelines” and by this he does not mean the referee’s assistant.

Thus in German football, the psychology of the players is seen as paramount.  “The human being is a social being, his attitude to himself depends on what important others think and say about him,” says social psychologist Dieter Frey of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich. He defines the process as being one in which one can”believe in me, and have self-confidence which can be increased because others trusts my abilities.” From this follows the belief in your own ability: I can actually, try it again, exert myself.

Likewise failures are also accepted; tolerance and perseverance increase.

“The recognition must be designed so that everyone feels individually recognized,” says chief physician of Bayern Henningsen. “If that’s done well, the appreciation does not have to be different for everyone, but attending to the individual’s self-perception increases the likelihood of success.”

This is all utterly different from England where the heart of everything is criticism and pointing at failure.  Managers may want to nurture players who are having a bad time, but it is hard because of the ceaseless, remorseless criticism that emerges from the media and then in a copycat style onto the terraces.  One can see multiple examples in the commentary to the earlier article published here today.

I’ve often written that the reason for the failure of the England team has been the tiny number of top coaches that we have per 1000 players compared with other countries from Iceland to Germany.  But I think that theory I’ve been batting around for nearly 10 years needs to be expanded.  It is also the lower level of intolerant criticism that players in some other countries get, which helps them overcome crises and develop their abilities.

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12 Replies to “To praise or condemn: why the Germans do so well at football compared to the English”

  1. @Tony

    It is a quite interesting piece from the German media except, there are always two sides of the coin.

    If Heynckes, in his fourth stint as a Bayern manager, has managed to turn things around by encouraging players, could it be that he made the difference comparing to the previous manager Carlo Ancelotti?

    If he did, then the whole praising players issue is down to the manager, not to people who try to make themselves important on the social networks.

    One thing that doesn’t fit, however, is the fact Mr Ancelotti is well-known for being a gent and a guy with laissez fair approach which, according to reports before his sacking last year, caused a discontent in the dressing room as some veteran players protested at the higher levels of the club about his approach. Basically, they wanted a kick in the bum and they got it with Jupp Heynckes aka “OSRAM”.

    I’ve stated my opinion once or twice that – if Arsenal want big success on the pitch in the forthcoming years – our next manager has to be more like George Graham, a cruel cold bastard who will kick players in the bum, and less like Arsene Wenger, a father-like figure who is too good for times we live in and who was the best towards players that betrayed him the most (Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor, Henry…). Talents like Iwobi would think twice before getting late to training if they know there is every chance they would be called to the manager’s office to be told they’ve been “sold to Leeds”. Someone like Diego Simeone would do exactly that.

  2. @ Josif
    I’m not stalking you
    Espousing a link between positive mental attitude and performance is hardly groundbreaking.
    What would be , is to offer a solution. Even on an anecdotal level.
    Now, I’m not equipped to refute the assertion that the manager has done this at Bayern. But Arsenal is not Bayern
    I was at Bayern last year, and the main thing that struck me on my 1 hour circumnavigation of the ground, was THe NOISE. Incessant, pulsating, gothic growling, interspersed with crescendos of roaring. Sometimes upon Cue of PA …another goal, often just coz it felt about time.
    The only time we could hear ourselves sing, was when there were no players on the pitch. Half time.
    I such circumstances personal feelings towards players actions are overwhelmingly lousy in the whitenoise. Not so at the Ems. Not last night for sure.
    You hear Comedians recount tales of Tough Crowds, but these are usually in venues which they have targeted as challenges, or new horizons, or I some instances ,for the fu**of it , but not they’re home town crowds.
    I am not saying that This Is The Solution, just that Bayerns medicine is not necessarily Arsenal’s.
    But they should hire a Band anyway.
    And Simeone.

  3. @Ferg

    Oh yes.

    The atmosphere at the Emirates. Even the opponents have openly criticized our fans. Remember that defeat against Swansea two years ago when Craig Pawson was really prolific for Swansea?

    Then again, this season we have done pretty well at home (outside last night defeat). The problem is in our performances on the road. If there is a 40-point difference in the structure of our home and away points inside our last 92 points, it can’t be a coincidence. In theory, it’s about doing a paradoxal thing and persuading your players in two things: 1) when they play at home, the crowd is their 12th player and 2) when they play away from home, remind them that the crowd doesn’t play for the opponents but only those eleven lads in the opponents’ shirts.

    You are right about one thing though: what works for Bayern wouldn’t necessarily work for Arsenal. Start with the most painful thing: Bayern can rely on domestic players because they are Germans while our domestic players are English*.

    * – OK, there is a HG-rule that qualify players like Bellerin and Ramsey as domestic but let’s not ruin my attempt of joke any further

  4. The FA has charged Pep Guardiola for wearing his yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians, “in breach of kit and advertising regulations”.

  5. Hope he challenges them.

    Is it too much to hope that he is banned from coaching until the hearing …?

  6. While publishing this article that highlights the German Bundelisga Bayern Munich club manager, Jupp Hyneckes approach not to rail on any his top player who is having a poor performance season could be examplary. But it must be remembered that the Premier League is a highly six teams race competitive League with an entrenched criticism culture unlike the Bundesliga that’s is always a two horse race League where the champions can be predicted with a slide rule accuracy when the season kicks off. So, what is there to be criticised.

  7. OT: Australian Football is Perhaps Below English

    Today, some sports thing printed a story “Australian Football Needs Better Coaches”.

    Australian football’s poor crowds and TV ratings have been spoken about time and again, but the A-League’s managers have not come under much scrutiny.

    Are these ten managers good enough to provide fans with the best possible quality football to watch?

    And the article goes on to describe football very similar to what the bottom 14 teams of the EPL play.

    I would say the Aussie fan deserves credit, to refuse to watch football similar to what Stoke, West Ham or Crystal Palace might play.

    But I’ve read many articles praising the fact that English football (including the PGMO) has been helping Australian football by having English referees visit Australia or having Australian officials visit England.

    The article then goes to berate all managers:

    Only an irresponsible coach would make a comment saying a game was “10 against 12”. If he wants an open discussion with referee, he should save this type of comments for then.

    Only an irresponsible football writer would assume that officials could never participate in biased officiating. Especially if they are being _COACHED_ by people from England.

    I hope that Australia finds some better coaches. It is entirely possible they just don’t have enough coaches, just like England doesn’t have enough coaches. So they should endeavor to train more coaches.

  8. Aaah the Germans…

    I am a Canadian who has played a fair bit of football…in school and then in college and then in my travels through Latin America. So, I would say that I am at the least semi-skilled at the sport. I ended up living in Germany in the noughties. I joined a Fuessball Verein in Bonn and played in an oldtimer’s league. Quite a cultural experience overall but I will confine it to the sporting side of things. For starters, in the 100 year history of the club for which I played, I was the first foreigner. To make matters more interesting, I approached them to join their club…this is not done. You join when you are a lad, and you leave in a box OR you marry in because your new wife’s brother invites you in…but to just ring up and enquire…unheard of. On the pitch, there was a lot of skill but what stood out to me was how they interracted. Should you miss a sitter, your teammates would yell at you, swear at you even! This is not done in the Americas, North, Central or South (wherever I have played). Usually there would be a pat on the back and some nothing platitudes like “next time, mate!”

    The first couple of times that this happened, I was not sure how to react but looking around I saw them do it to Deutscher(s), too. But, afterwards, in the clubhouse it was drinks all around and no mention of your ineptitude in front of goal. In our club there was little building up or tearing down of players. You were who you were and the captain chose tactics based on who we were playing and our abilities…very no nonsense.

  9. Encouragement –

    Orderly : ” Why did you run out of the operating room ?”

    Patient : ” The nurse was repeatedly saying ,” Don’t be nervous .”, “Don’t be afraid.” , ” Be strong.” , and “This is only a small operation.”

    Orderly : ” So what was wrong in that ? She was only trying to calm you and encourage you .”

    Patient : ” She was saying it to the doctor !”

  10. Gord /Tony,
    I lived in Oz for 15 years 1999-2014 and watched football on SBS, with European & Australian hosts/pundits.
    A good standard of comment and analysis.
    Apart from the athleticism of the players, there was nothing above Championship level in the A-League except foreigners at the end of their careers
    No guile, no craft from the Aussies (except for Lucas Neill) but who would run their hearts out and NEVER GIVE UP
    My time in Oz showed me that the whingeing Pom stereotype was more about the Aussie incomprehension of how defeat can be honourable – they’re a young country defined by their moments of national success – whereas in Britain we celebrate our failures; a sort of gallows humour
    Moaning about the hopelessness of one champions when they fall on their arses is a perverse pleasure which neatly dovetails with the occasional triumphs.
    To me, they’re either heroes or c*♧ts
    None of it is to be taken too seriously but, at the same time, I always want the Arsenal to do well and give praise where praise is due (I’m sure they’re very grateful)
    Supporting a football team is a fairly irrational and fun thing to do, n’est ce pas, even when the cup is bitter.

  11. I can see a lot of truth in the subject of this article.

    Footballers are artists as much as actors and singers are.

    Artists need praise to keep them going. Chucking money at them is not enough. Tink of how many talented comedians and actors, who have plenty of money kill themselves?

    Endless criticism will always have a negative effect.

    As an employer, I have given praise when it is due and had a short word when there is a problem, pointing out that something was not correct and could be done better is more beneficial than a telling off. The one time I criticised an employee for something she did, she walked out and did not return.

    I daresay that the same happens in the classroom as well.

    AW never criticises players in public. What he might say in private, I have no doubt would be tactful and gentle.

    He has always been seen as a beneficent manager rather than a tyrant.

    Fergie was the second and seemed to get the best out of his players by threats and cajoling. Any player that did not toe the line was out in a flash, no matter how senior or crucial to the team that player might have been.

    That a few players did not repay his generosity to them is a bad reflection on them, not on him.

    For every one of them, there are tens of players who reflect that their years with Arsenal were happy and even the happiest of their careers.

    Short term criticism, immediately after a player makes a faux pas is one thing. The constant barrage is unproductive.

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