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Know Thyself

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As the season approaches the business end, Liverpool's squad appears to be peopled with some very impressive characters who are adopting a holistic approach to their development.

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Haha! He'd fooled the entire defence with his cunning fake point! Now, to...wait...where had the ball gone?
Haha! He'd fooled the entire defence with his cunning fake point! Now, to...wait...where had the ball gone?
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The conflict-related counsel of Sun Tzu, that most overly quoted font of combat wisdom, is regularly spouted in cringeworthy fashion by would-be leaders of men in the most incongruous of situations. Picture a cross between Phil Brown and David Brent attempting to rally a group of listless vacuum salesmen in a Watford Travelodge and you have the type. However, when the Chinese military strategist speaks on the topic of self-knowledge, there is an indubitable sagacity in his musings. "If you know the enemy and know yourself," says the author of The Art of War, "you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." Well, quite.

The Ancient Greeks were a comparatively clever lot, by all accounts, and they shared a fascination with the concept of being self-aware. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and their erudite muckers spent countless hours involved in dialogues about the nature of humanity and existence, bless them. The writer Pausanias tells us that on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed one of the aforementioned fellows' favourite maxims - Know Thyself. Now, if such perspicacious and canny types felt that this was worthy of being hewn into stone, it probably bears a moment or two of consideration.

Thankfully, the modern sportsman is a thoughtful sort, as a rule, and many of the clichés about doltish lugs with zero capacity for self-analysis have been consigned to the past. Of course, we can all think of a pea-brained footballer or seven but the point stands -- generally, the mental and psychological side of the game has begun to be embraced and the players themselves have started to see the benefits. Last season, Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy paid glowing tribute to Dr. Steve Peters for his work with them, crediting their sessions as having had a notable effect on their subsequent performances. Footballers being the inherently competitive breed they are, many others have since treated their mental preparation with more care and attention, lest they miss out on any slight advantage that might accrue. This is good.

Around Melwood, there can be few humans with the kind of easy confidence that Daniel Sturridge possesses. The prolific forward, whose struggles with injury have defined his Anfield tenure almot as much as his outrageous tally of 37 goals in 56 appearances, shows none of the inclination towards fretful introspection that his club captain has always succumbed to. Sturridge is phlegmatic and sanguine on the topic of the time he has missed. He knows the rhythms and idiosyncracies of his own physiology and he understands that his attributes would not be what they are were it not for that same physical make-up which leaves him vulnerable. It's a maddening concept but the Liverpool man is admirably calm about his situation. In a conversation with BT Sport's Michael Owen, himself a victim of recurrent injuries when he played, Sturridge expounded on the subject.

"When you are a quick player you are more explosive, you do certain things the way I play," he explained. "But its part of the game isn’t it? With the way I play now and how you [Owen] used to play, you make certain runs and are more explosive and do certain things that other people don’t and that’s what makes us who we are, who you were, and that’s just how it is.

"That’s football and if I didn’t be as explosive as I was I could play and I could be fine and I could not get injured. But I am who I am, and what makes me who I am is the way I play. And I have to continue doing that and continue doing the work off the field to ensure there’s no more injuries. God willing that doesn’t happen again."

On the topic of Raheem Sterling, Sturridge again emphasised the role of mental strength in the almost absurdly rapid progress the youngster has made as a player and as a man. Sterling, it seems, is also an advocate of self-knowledge and Sturridge feels he deserves to be acknowledged for his efforts in overcoming the "distractions" which looked as though they might derail him at one point.

"He can go as far as he wants to go," the amiable forward said of his England colleague, before adding, almost paternally, "I am proud of him for everything he is achieving. I think if he continues to work hard and continues to believe in himself and has no distractions in his life -- there’s none now and I hope that continues. He’s level headed and that’s what I like about him. I think he needs to get the credit he deserves for things he’s achieving because not many players are doing what he’s doing in the world."

Another young man who has shown a remarkable mental fortitude in his debut campaign, is Alberto Moreno. The all-action defender has been in impressive form and a quietly constant presence in the Redmen's revival in recent times. In an interview this week, he also revealed a healthy but humble interest in personal development as well as professional growth. To witness the energetic youngster put his body on the line and communicate with his teammates during recent matches, one would have to conclude that the process is moving along quite nicely.

"I played as a winger when I was younger," the young Spaniard told the official website. "I really like this formation as I can attack more, which is one of the things I like to do the most on the pitch. Of course, we also have defensive duties but this system gives me more freedom to attack. I like this formation as I think it suits the type of players we have very well - and things are unfolding well as a result."

You may have thought that decoding Brendanspeak or following Colly Pascoe's drills would have been the toughest challenge for Moreno, but you're thinking would be awry. The language barrier has hindered him most, with the energetic wingman observing sagely that his native tongue is "different" to his adopted one. The rigours of the Premier League have also been a challenge, but one the robust defender has savoured.

"The hardest aspect is the language. Sometimes it's difficult to understand as it's different from Spanish, of course - but I believe I will soon be able to speak English. Moreover, the league here is very intense and very competitive - it doesn't matter if you're playing against the top or the bottom team. Games are always hard-fought and you have to give everything. You can concede a goal very easily and lose the game if you get distracted for just a moment - so it's important to stay alert, strong and intense.

"It's very important not to lose your cool and concentration in the Premier League. Every game is very costly to win and you cannot relax regardless of the team you are playing against. I actually find it good that you have to be alert and give everything throughout the 90 minutes, knowing that a turnaround can happen at any time in this league. It's a competitive game and teams can often be offensive and defensive simultaneously. I like the Premier League a lot and I think it suits my qualities and my style of play."

So there you have it. Three young men, striving to be self-aware and as in tune with their minds as their bodies. Plato and his chatty chums would doubtless be proud. Liverpool supporters certainly are.