Making space on planet Scharner


Last updated at 19:52 05 October 2007

His team-mates call

him The Spaceman,

and Paul Scharner

does a nice line in self-deprecation,

chuckling: "They think I'm from

another planet."

A glance at the blue streaks in his

hair and thick fur coat that could

have been a cast-off from one of

Bernie Winters' Bud Flanagan

routines was enough for keeper

Mike Pollitt to confer the nickname

on him when he signed from Brann


Paul Scharner, Wigan

A listen to the way he spends his

time away from the JJB Stadium

was enough to make it stick.

Sir Alex Ferguson may pride

himself on knowing every psychological

trick in the book, but even

he may have to concede that The

Spaceman from Wigan has pushed

back the frontiers when it comes to

mind over matter.

It has been Scharner's specialist

subject most of his adult life and he

was happy to provide Sportsmail

with an insight into how he puts

theory into practice, ahead of

today's match with Manchester

United at Old Trafford.

Unorthodox scarcely begins to

describe most of the methods instilled in him by Austrian mind

coach Valentin Hobel, but he is

adamant they work, all the same.

Short attention span, for

instance, was the bane of his

career, but not once he found a

dingy pool hall in the middle of

Wigan and began a weekly ritual of

potting ball after ball, usually with

the clock as his only opponent.

When he felt his range of passing

left something to be desired, he hit

on the idea of pitching a deckchair

on a windswept hillside in rural

Parbold and sitting back for an

hour or two to take in the views.

He smiles at the blank look that

greets each anecdote and admits

he can understand some people

dismissing him as "a little mad",

before continuing undeterred with

another illustration of his highly

individual approach to self-improvement.

As match day nears, he bids

farewell to his wife and two young

children at the family home in

Warrington and goes into solitary

confinement, for anything up to

24 hours, to make sure he is "in the

zone" when kick-off arrives.

To complete a character study

that hardly fits the Premier League

norm, he hangs on every note of

Mozart's piano sonatas and sat enthralled as William Wallace, in

the guise of Mel Gibson, delivered

his address to the troops at Stirling

in the film Braveheart, even if it

was dubbed into German.

"I know it makes me an easy

target for mickey-taking, but I

haven't had any," he said. "Other

players have been very respectful,

but it wouldn't bother me anyway.

Ever since my mother brought

home some of Valentin's cassettes

when I was 15, I have been interested

in his beliefs.

"He has taught me so much and

helped me solve so many problems.

I always found it difficult to

concentrate for the full 90 minutes.

I would come off the pitch and

realise I had switched off for maybe

20 minutes. Valentin told me pool

could help. He was a world-class

pool player in his day and said it

was great for concentration.

"Now, every week, I go to a little

club in the town centre and play.

Usually by myself, because the idea is to pot the balls as quickly as

possible. I'm walking round the

table, thinking about the next shot

and all the angles and I'm giving it

my full attention all the time.

"I get a few funny looks from

people sometimes, but after a few

autographs they let me get on with

it. I think the regulars are getting

used to it now.

"I speak to Valentin all the time

and he stresses the benefit of finding

somewhere in the country for

quiet reflection. This field in

Parbold, just a few miles away, is

ideal. It is high up, with far-reaching

views, and when I found it, driving

round one day, I knew it was the

place to sit back in my deckchair

and spend a few hours meditating.

"It is a panoramic view, and it has

improved my vision. Taking it all in,

looking round at all the trees and

different colours, actually helps me

pick things out on the pitch. It's

true. You have to have eyes all

round you in midfield and I have found that, when I've got the ball,

I'm seeing team-mates in good

positions far more than before.

"Players at this level are all in

peak physical condition. There's

not much to choose between them,

so you've got to try and get the

edge mentally. The stuff I do gives

me a conviction and belief that

I can achieve things, and that

showed in my debut in the Carling

Cup against Arsenal. I went on as

sub against my boyhood idols in a

semi-final and scored the winner.

"Some people might say it was

just one of those things, but I don't

think so. My coach is always

setting me targets and stressing

the need to be mentally right and

in the best frame of mind. That's

why, the day before a game, I leave

home and spend the night in a flat

I've got in Manchester.

"It's an important routine. I need

the space, to be looking down the

tunnel towards the game, away

from any distractions. I still have regular meetings with Valentin. He

comes over once a month and stays

three or four days. We drive out to

the countryside, find a quiet spot

in a field somewhere and chat for

two or three hours. We cover all

sorts of topics, homelife as well as

football, because if one aspect of

your life is troubling you, it's going

to affect everything else.

"I got a bit of ribbing from the lads

when I arrived, but that was

because of my appearance. You

need a thick fur coat for Austrian

winters. They've been fine about

the other things I do, and Arjan de

Zeeuw even expressed an interest

in taking it up himself. The only

person who wasn't too impressed

was Paul Jewell. Even now, I can

picture him pointing a finger at me

and saying, 'Aye, lad, I'm the only

mental coach you'll ever need'.

"It was always in that broad

Scouse accent, and it always made

me laugh."

As evidence that he could be on

to something, with his belief in the

power of thought, Scharner

attracted an approach from

Everton manager David Moyes in

the summer, though mention of the

Goodison Park club still sends

shudder through him after a cuptie

two seasons ago.

"Duncan Ferguson elbowed me in

the neck three times and I was

beginning to get a bit angry," he

said. "I swore at him in Austrian

and I know he couldn't possibly

have understood it. Even so, he

suddenly swung round and

thumped me in the stomach. He

got sent off, but I began to appreciate

how he earned his reputation

as a hard man. It was a nice punch,

I have to say.

"It was flattering Everton wanted

to sign me, but there are things

want to achieve with Wigan. The

gaffer told me he was aiming for

place in the top half of the Premier

League, and I believe we can do it.

It was what I wanted to hear.

Positive thinking."