In the weeks leading up to the final, we did a lot of work in the classroom on how the players would handle the day.
Are we going to fly? Are we going to sink? Are we going to disappear?
I gave them a scenario. You are in a pitch-black alley. You don’t know what’s at the end of it, but you have to walk down there. How are you going to get through it?
Confronting situations like that helped the players to believe they were prepared. No matter what happened during the game, they felt ready for it.
On the day, I wanted to give the players something special. Something to acknowledge how significant it was, just like you would on your wedding day or if you have a child.
I love my garden. It’s my sanctuary. So, over time, I grew some pink roses for them.
Then, I chose a poem for them, too.
I didn’t want to give it to them too early, though. Or too late, when they were in the dressing room. I wanted to give it to them when they had time to reflect and contemplate.
So, when they got on the bus to go to the game, I told them to put their headphones on as they normally would, then to take their time and read it. Take it all in.
It felt like the right thing to do on that day. To be a top coach, you have to be more than the Xs and Os on the grass. You have to be able to influence their minds and their hearts.
“I wanted them to kill the game. If we saw it out in a drab 1-0, so be it. It’s about winning”
Before the game, I made them line up on the grass at Wembley, as they would for the National Anthem. And I told them something I had learned from Sir Alex Ferguson.
“The mistake a lot of teams make at this moment, is that they start waving to everyone in the crowd.
“We’re not going to do that.
“You see that sign up there? I want everyone to focus on the letter W, no matter what. Don’t look at your parents. Don’t look at your partner. And don’t look at me.”
When we came out to do it for real, I stood with my team and looked across at our opponents, Notts County.
I saw several of their players waving and looking around. I thought of Sir Alex, and I knew exactly where the focus of my group was.