“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”
Rupert Pupkin, King of Comedy
In Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy, the central protagonist, the splendidly monikered Rupert Pupkin, is a quietly unhinged man with delusions of grandeur and dreams of celebrity status. Pupkin, whose dark psychopathology eventually sees him resorting to kidnap and extortion, is fuelled by the kind of impervious self-belief that others find ludicrous.
The film is an unsettling masterpiece and its prescience about the extremes to which society would eventually take celebrity obsession is unnerving. However, as Latest News watched it yet again last night, it was not the bleak and soulless lives of the characters that resonated. Instead, it was Pupkin’s absolute refusal to take no for an answer. When fawning politeness and then brazen pushiness failed, he simply ratcheted up the stakes until he achieved his goal. It leaves the viewer with so many questions about the extent to which self-belief is the key to success.
In recent years sport has come to fully embrace the marginal gains that can be accrued by paying proper attention to the psychological welfare of athletes. Not that long ago, talk of counselling or mindfulness would have led to derisive sneering in the toxically old-school dressing rooms of the Barclays Premier League. Now, though, thanks to the endorsement superstars like Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard, footballers are more comfortable talking about the comparative fragility of their self-esteem.
It’s a wonderfully healthy progression, and a necessary one, especially when you listen to a player of the status of Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum discussing how the travails of recent weeks had damaged the confidence of the Dutch international and his chums. His words reveal the extent to which the media battering of the team really got in on the players.
It’s tempting to wish that these tremendously talented young men had a touch more Pupkin about them at times, a little more ferocious self-belief, but if they continue to respond to Jürgen Klopp’s promptings as they did on Saturday evening, nobody will be too bothered where the confidence came from.
“I think if a manager is saying the same thing [that players aren’t good enough] in the situation we were in, that’s [bad] for a team,” the busy midfielder admitted. “That would kill the confidence of the players then, and that’s not a good thing. When you’re a team, you have to believe in each other – you’re a kind of family. And if [someone] is saying you’re not good enough, and the kind of things that the media have said, that’s a bad thing. He believes in us – and I don’t think he says this because he wants to keep the confidence up, I think he truly believes in us. This has given us a good feeling because he trusts us.
“I think in some situations, we put too much pressure on ourselves – that’s why it went on so long,” Wijnaldum continued. “If you have a few poor games in a row, you’re going to put pressure on yourself like, ‘we have to win this one or otherwise this, otherwise that’ and I think we were too busy thinking about the consequences than concentrating on the game. This week, we were only concentrating on Tottenham – how are we going to play against them, where we can hurt them and things like that. The focus was different than a few weeks before. That’s only my opinion, I don’t know what the other players think.”
The thrust of Wijnaldum’s words is indisputably positive but there is something about the frankness of his admission that really emphasises just how delicate the balance is between peak athletes being imbued with the will to run through walls and the very same group sleepwalking through matches, bereft of self-belief and damaged by criticism. The mind can be our greatest ally or our most treacherous enemy, but under Klopp’s guidance, Latest News is confident that Wijnaldum and his fellow Redmen will have more good times than bad.