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Owen/Psychologist

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Owen has got God on his sideSep 16 2007

 

 

 

 

by Neil Farrington, Sunday Sun

 

 

DERBY COUNTY should be afraid. Very afraid.

 

For Sam Allardyce has revealed the two secret weapons behind Newcastle’s solid start to the season and Michael Owen’s stunning comeback with club and country.

 

Weapons which have blown away the mental demons which plagued United and an injury- jinxed Owen last season.

 

They are a super shrink – and God.

 

Owen leads the Magpies’ Rams-raid tonight crediting his scoring streak for Newcastle and England – five in four games – to “mental strength”.

 

 

And Allardyce has identified the reasons for the new resolve and fortitude in his dressing room.

 

 

“Dr Mark Nesti, a clinical psychologist. He’s not a sports psychologist, he is miles better,” said Big Sam.

 

 

“He is there for the players and I promote him because of the great faith I have in the work he has done.

 

 

“In football terms, the difference between a Premiership player and all the other divisions is his mental state, his mental agility or his decision-making process.

 

 

“Premiership players’ skills are sometimes no greater than players below them in different leagues, but they can play in the Premiership because they can cope better mentally.

 

 

“By giving no coaching on that, you undermine the potential of your players.

 

 

“In that area, Dr Nesti is one of the best. He is one of the most qualified men I have ever met. He is a magic guy at what he does.”

 

 

Nesti is an expert in “existential psychology” based at York St John University, but worked with Allardyce for five years at Bolton.

 

 

“This country has a far too negative view on psychology. We fall way behind a lot of countries in that respect,” added the Newcastle boss.

 

 

“It is a very big part of football – the most important part. What goes on between the ears is what makes you as good as you are as a player.”

 

 

Allardyce added: “I wouldn’t tell you if Michael has seen him, it is purely confidential between those two people. I cannot breach that confidentiality.”

 

 

But it seems unlikely that Owen, only recently back from injury but gearing up for key England games, will not have met with Nesti.

 

 

And Allardyce referred to the mental consequences of long-term injury to Owen and team-mate Alan Smith when he said: “We have two players who have had what I consider a life-changing experience of the doom and gloom that serious injury brings.

 

 

“The depression comes over you wondering day by day whether you are ever really going to get better. Will you ever really be the same?”

 

 

But whether Owen will have conversed with the even higher force that Allardyce swears by remains to be seen.

 

 

“There are lots of players who take more comfort from a religious point of view. That is the way forward perhaps psychologically,” said Allardyce.

 

 

“Religious faith can be what they can turn to . . . and that is a great help. We have got David Tully, the club chaplain, working on that, and I had a chaplain at Bolton who did terrific work in a similar area.

 

 

“Marrying them (psychology and religion) together is a fantastic opportunity to relieve yourself of what problems you may have.

 

 

“Generally, a player’s problems don’t lie inside the football club. Generally the problems lie outside.

 

 

“To have someone to help them with those problems without anyone getting to know about them can only be a wonderful thing.”

 

 

Allardyce has made numerous appointments behind the scenes at St James’s Park to bring the club up to speed with his forward-thinking approach.

 

 

And the impact made by Nesti in particular has left him more than satisfied with the set-up now in place.

 

 

“We’ve got the best background team in the country,” he declared.

 

 

“When I started down this route eight or nine years ago, people used to laugh at me. They used to say: ‘Look at that big, daft devil. What’s he doing that for?’ They tried to make a mockery of me.

 

 

“Now, I sit in this position as a very successful manager. My beliefs have been proven by results.

 

 

“What made me go down that route? Ground-breaking ideas. Ideas like a cryogenic therapy unit – we had the first one in the country at Bolton.

 

 

“It promotes recovery after training. You can then train the players longer and harder than ever before.

 

 

“We were the first to get that sort of science in. You are only looking for one per cent or half a per cent to make players better.”

 

 

Allardyce concluded: “If you can give that player that bit more support then he is going to fight to give you that bit more back when he goes out onto the field.

 

 

“That is the fine line between winning and losing.”

 

 

Owen in particular will swear by that.

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