Imprisonment – a good way to motivate a struggling team?
On the whole, the lot of a Serie A player is sweet – the pay and the food are good while there are plenty of pretty monuments to see on your day off.
A downside, however, is that if your team are doing badly, you risk living in conditions of near imprisonment for several weeks.
Italian pros usually spend the night before a match at the club training centre.
The aim is to help them focus on the task ahead in a distraction-free environment, although it also enables clubs to ensure their guys aren’t eating/drinking/smoking/doing anything that would affect their performance on the field.
But when a side hits a rough patch, Italian presidents often call a full-time ‘ritiro’, effectively holing players up on club premises indefinitely.
As sticks go, it’s potentially a powerful one, especially for footballers who may be too rich to be moved by the carrot of a win bonus, as they end up playing for the right to go home to their girlfriends or families of an evening.
The ploy is not popular with players. Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi and France centre back Philippe Mexes led the moans when AS Roma chairwoman Rosella Sensi recently imposed a ritiro after a miserable run of results.
If anything, this enhances a ritiro’s appeal for club bosses. A bit of grumbling enables them to show the fans that they are: a) not soft on their underperforming staff; and b) doing something to turn things around. In England the only ‘positive’ action a chairman can take in troubled times is to sack the manager.
‘Ritiri’ also give fans the chance to take some sadistic pleasure from seeing big names with charmed lives enduring this variation on a school detention.
That could be why Serie A players have not rebelled against this form of enforced confinement yet, even though it is probably against European labour law.
The Roma case does not give much indication as to whether this approach works. Last week’s 3-1 win over Chelsea came a few days after Sensi had called off the team ritiro, although maybe the players produced their best performance of the season so far because they didn’t want her to reinstate it.
Some players make the best of it when holed up away from home. Former Real Madrid forward Antonio Cassano, now at Sampdoria, had lots of fun with the ladies when he stayed for a while in a Madrid hotel.
“I made friends with a hotel employee. His job was to bring me up three or four croissants after I’d had sex,” Cassano recounts in his new autobiography. “He’d bring them up the stairs, I’d come with the girl and we’d do the handover. She’d leave with him and I’d stuff myself with croissants. Sex and food — the perfect night.”
What do you think about enforced confinement? Could this form of team motivation work outside Italy? Do you know of any other unusual ways to shake struggling sides into shape?
PHOTO: A success with the ladies? Italy’s Antonio Cassano celebrates on the pitch in his underwear after their Euro 2008 victory over France in Zurich, June 17. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich