The Loneliness of the Foreign Import

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Its half time in the first Portsmouth-Southampton South Coast derby for years and the Sky punditry team of John Beresford and Ian Dowie are dissecting the action.

Beresford is sorely tempted to cross the unspoken line and break the professionals’ code of honour. He is suggesting that, by Zivkovic giving the ball away cheaply in a dangerous area, leading to the opening Saints goal, by Srnicek attempting to save with his feet not his hands, Portsmouth don’t fancy the battle.

The implication seems to be that this South Coast derby may be a matter of consequence for the fans, but for the foreign import it’s simply another payday in the tedious footballing sideshow.

In the days after caretaker manager Eddie Gray has wielded the changes at Elland Road and axed Peter Reid’s imports, Roque Junior, Camara, Sakho and Olembe, the stereotypical view seems to be that these arrivistas are unimpressive money grabbers.

The look of sheer bewilderment on the face of the Brazilian World Cup winner, Roque Junior as he faced the pressure of an aerial bombardment on a cold Monday at Leicester, days after stepping off the plane at Leeds-Bradford airport, seemed to be another case in point, but it should have informed even Reid that star players need time to fit in.

The subtle integration of a group of new players, en masse, is a process very few managers, apart from Sam Allardyce and Claudio Raneiri, have begun to master. Reid’s unrealistic expectations of his imports is typical. Throw them in at the deep end and their quality will shine through. But it simply doesn’t work like that, and good coaches understand this.

A thorough orientation is essential for new players to appreciate, understand and absorb the culture of the club he is joining. This integration is achieved with an acceptance of the club’s values, which are found in its rich traditions, the eminent players, the trophy cabinet, the classic matches and the fond dreams and traditional stories of the supporters.

It’s one reason Leeds supporters were crying out for David Batty to return to the fold during Venables’ brief, uncomfortable tenure. He may not be the most talented player in the squad, but Batty upheld certain traditional values that defined Leeds United and the city of Leeds; a capacity for hard-work; a never say die spirit; a modest pride in a job well done.

The imported player must be aware that he is the city’s, the fans’ and the clubs’ representative on the field of play. Any dilution of the cause he is representing can only lead to a breakdown of trust between player and supporter.

Think Alex Nyarko and the over-zealous Evertonian invading the pitch at Highbury to throw his replica shirt at him. This shirt is steeped in tradition, respect it, was the symbolic message to the bemused player.

The Sports Psychology Summary…
As a pupil of Don Revie, it should come as no surprise that Eddie Gray’s first move was to re-connect the players to the common sense principles upon which the football club is founded. If they are to avoid the ignominy of relegation, then it will be because the players rediscovered the qualities which made Leeds United a respected name and collectively determined that hard won standards wouldn’t be defiled.

By such means can the loan players be reintegrated into a club with a stable playing base, even if the rest of the infrastructure is built on shifting sands.

Martin Perry: Con