If we don’t win, the lizard gets it…

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Sorry folks, but my considered analysis of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals will have to wait as I am in Venice, wondering if the suggestion that I sneak out to watch SSC Venezia take on the mighty Pergocrema in Serie C1A might lead to divorce.

Then again, Pergocrema does sound like an Italian cure for piles.

Suffice to say: how good were Porto! And how crap was my pre-match analysis!

In the meantime, I have cobbled together a series of random thoughts on training, ritual slaughter and the madness of coaches.

Porto upset the Prof's predictions...

Training daze...

I read a flattering profile of Frank Lampard the other day which said he was invariably the last player on the training ground.

This set me wondering. Frank may be a tireless trainer but if every footballer who claimed they were the last one to stop training really was last the last to hang up their boots, there would be no lasts. Training would simply never end.

There’s also the implicit, Protestant work ethic assumption that such diligence is always laudable. There’s one tiny flaw in that theory. It’s utter b*llocks. Gary Lineker’s idea of a tough training regime was getting out off the bath, but it didn’t stop him scoring 48 goals for England.

As Ed Smith points out in Intelligent Life, training hard doesn’t account for the difference in greatness between, say, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Nor, Smith adds, would David Gower necessarily have been a better batsman if he’d trained as hard as Graham Gooch.

So can we stop this sports jock snobbishness and just accept that different players have different training needs? And treat every claim that a player is the last in training with due scepticism.

Lampard: Last in the showers again

If we don’t win, the lizard dies…

The lizards of Marseille must be getting nervous. In 1993, before OM met Milan in the UEFA Champions League final, Basile Boli’s wife sacrificed a lizard for luck.

It worked for the final – but couldn’t stave off Tapiegate. Now OM are back in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, against Shakhtar, further acts of ritual slaughter cannot be ruled out.

Just after reading about Boli’s animal sacrifice, I flew to Geneva to see UEFA. On a concourse plastered with posters for watches, I noticed one promoting a timepiece made out of original parts of the Titanic.

As brand extensions go, this struck me as hideous, tacky and, surely, unlucky. What next? Cuff links containing lumps of the iceberg that struck the ship?

Can’t see either of these fashion accessories catching on with footballers who are, on the whole, a deeply superstitious bunch, obsessed by rituals, lucky underpants and fortuitous rabbits’ foots although, there again, you have to wonder? How lucky can a rabbit that's lost its foot be?

"Quick... leg it"

You don’t have to be mad to coach but…

Continuing my occasional series on football professions where a streak of insanity is a useful asset, coaching surely requires a degree of obsession that could unbalance many ordinary mortals.

I am thinking – and I’m afraid this has to be a no names kind of story because of the laws of libel – of the gaffer who, on arriving at a club, had all the portraits of past glories torn down from his office walls to be replaced with pictures of himself.

I am also struck by my memory of an interview with a top-flight coach where talk turned, as it often does, to tactics. The interviewee leant over and said: “I don’t want to talk too much about this because I think I’ve spotted something in midfield that no one else has seen.”

I watched his team for the rest of the season, trying to discern or deduce what secret wisdom this coach had uncovered and how his team were putting it to use.

Whatever it was, it didn’t work. The team got relegated and the manager’s fluctuating subsequent career did little to suggest that this secret stood him in good stead.

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