In mid-March, 2016, Rapid Vienna played a home game against Admira Wacker Mödling. They lost 4-0.
Losing 4-0 at home is unusual in itself.
Losing 4-0 at home after claiming 16 of the last 18 available points is even more impressive.
And losing 4-0 at home when you’re neck and neck with Salzburg at the top of the table merely adds to the level of disaster.
They didn’t just lose, either.
In an extremely winnable match they really needed to win, their performance was so dire they were booed off by Rapid fans known for their rabid loyalty.
How can this ever happen?
Why are there days when sometimes it just doesn’t work? When the team seems to lack gas in the tank, spirit, motivation, passion, or sometimes just a basic understanding of how to pass or stop a ball?
The inside answer
Here’s what our football insiders told us can explain this kind of performance.
Physical or mental block
This is the one answer fans find hard to understand:
There are just days when you want to give 100%, but you can’t. I can’t explain it – it would be like explaining colours to a blind guy. It’s just impossible to explain why it happens…but it happens.
(Editor: Could this be the Moirai at work?)
If there’s an important match coming up in a few days, obviously players will save themselves:
You don’t go so hard into tackles, you minimise the risk of injury, you don’t give 100% because you want to be fit and rested for the bigger game. You don’t even want the ball, because then you’ll have to use energy. So players hide.
If a star player is out of form, it can influence the rest of the team. Equally, most teams have their “leaders” and their “followers”:
If the leaders are missing through suspension or injury, or simply not up for it, then the remaining players may not have enough self-motivation to shift up a gear.
(Editor: interested observers might check the invisible man theory. The “leader” or other individual able to catalyse a stronger performance may not always be the captain, the star player, or even the robust, reliable fulcrum the team appears to revolve around. The missing personality may well be somebody that nobody would ever consider.)
This often causes a team to lose, for example, tactical discipline…
As we saw with Brazil in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup against Germany.
Certain patterns of play or events have a clear, demoralising effect on a team. And it’s not just conceding the fifth goal before halftime.
For example, the opponent might only be a goal up, but they’re controlling the game completely so you can’t touch the ball. Or you’re 1-0 down at halftime but still in it: you come out fully motivated with a specific game plan, and they score within two minutes.
An individual or an entire team can be inhibited by some off-field issue:
…particularly relationship troubles.
Modern football is about ensuring a team reaches its peak performance potential on match day. Not every club has the required level of professionalism with regard to nutrition, discipline or training schedules. For example:
If you have an intensive training session on Friday because the coach thinks you need to get fitness levels up, your legs will be dead for the match on Saturday.
So how do you lower the risk of just such a performance?
Preparation, mental training and having the right characters in your team.
(Editor: another option is to change trainers? On June 6th, 2016, Rapid and Zoran Barišić announced a mutually-agreed separation.)