Aug 3, 2021 | Sport

Aug 3, 2021 | Sport

If Jung and Freud were European football pundits:



  • The coaching philosophy of head coaches is moulded by their own experiences and trauma.
  • The collective fans of European football could learn from Freud and Jung.

The Freud and Jung banter

If they were alive today, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung might be bantering about the goings-on at the belated Euro 2020 football tournament. Sigmund might have a spring in his step about the Czech Republic team sitting at the top of Group D, no doubt taunting his English neighbours whose team currently lies underneath. Carl might be feeling nervous, neurotic even, knowing that Switzerland needs a win against Turkey to have any chance of going through to the last 16, and dreading another one of Sigmund’s sarcastic texts should Switzerland be knocked out at the group stage.

Where is the psychological perspective?

Despite the rise of sport psychology, there appears to be a lack of psychological perspective of professional football (soccer) in the media (all offers will be carefully considered). The pioneers of modern psychology would have plenty to say. I have no doubt that Freud and Jung would have made entertaining and informative pundits. Their analysis on the philosophies of each team and how they have been moulded by historical trauma could be debated at length, together with a dissection of the significant career events of head coaches.

Freud’s analysis

Analysis of the former playing careers of the international head coaches reveals that nearly all have histories that are focused on defending or stopping the creativity of the opposition. Freud might be concerned that thoughts of attacking may have been buried or suppressed in these individuals. He may suggest a few sessions on the couch to unleash a more entertaining style of play or a change in personnel.

Do we need more goal-scoring coaches?

Only three of the 24 head coaches competing, were forwards in their playing careers. This includes the Italian head coach, the nation’s first such coach in the modern era. Roberto Mancini has transformed the way the Italian team plays and as things stand, after each team has played two matches, the Italians are the top goal scorers in the competition.

Mancini’s new style for Italy

Mancini’s playing career was focused on creating and scoring goals. Mancini was moulded during these formative years and so Freud would surely be unsurprised to see Mancini’s team focused on scoring too. This is not just good news for Italians whose teams tend to hang around until the end of competitions. Fans from other nations are, some may argue for the first time, enjoying watching Italy prioritise attacking.

Football Associations

In the interest of the viewing public then, and to improve the spectacle of each game, Freud might call on football associations across Europe to appoint head coaches who spent their playing days creating and scoring rather than preventing goals. Jung would no doubt disagree at once. Of course, Jung would then have to come up with a reason for disagreeing. He might draw on his own famous quote: “We are not what happened to us, we are what we wish to become”. This might be good advice for England head coach Gareth Southgate.

Southgate’s Trauma

Southgate’s traumatic history is known to most lovers of the game. As a player, he was positioned in the heart of England’s defence at Euro 1996. It was a tournament that England came close to winning yet did not. The trauma for Southgate was greater still, for it was he who had a penalty saved, England’s last kick of the tournament. Freud might suggest that the experience is still being felt by the child within the England head coach, as a way of explaining why Southgate insists on playing two protective, defensive midfielders in front of his former playing position.

Archetypal Players

Most other teams in the competition seem to favour one midfield anchor, and in the case of the top teams, this player is not focused entirely on defending. Jung might describe the French player, N’Golo Kanté as the archetype of this position in international football.

Creativity from the Depths

Freud might then suggest that Southgate should be searching for a player with more creativity welling up from the unconscious than seems apparent within the tireless, tackling incumbents. Freud might quip that some players seem to love the tackle more than they love the ball! Reflecting on this, Jung might remind us that: “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves” and then support the collective clamour for selecting the ball-playing Jack Grealish.

Loving the Beautiful Game is Never Easy

For lovers of the beautiful game across the European continent, sadly, only one team can lift the Euro 2020 trophy. This will leave the majority of fans suffering, adding another trauma to all those years of hurt. As Freud might remind us after the final has been played and before the studio is dismantled: “We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love”.

Blog originally written for Psychology Today.  See the original article here 

Peter Sear, Founder, The Empathic Minds Organisation

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