SAO PAULO – England has not won the World Cup since its solitary triumph in 1966 and typically implodes spectacularly on soccer's biggest stage, the most common method of demise coming in the excruciating form of penalty kick shootouts.
Three of England's last five World Cup exits have been on PKs, and when you include three more similar defeats in recent European Championship tournaments, well, you can see why the Three Lions hierarchy felt the team needed some psychiatric help heading into Brazil.
However, in what seems like an uniquely English type of farce, the man entrusted with keeping the minds of the nation's favorite sons on track in their most testing hour has been stricken with an extraordinary run of bad luck at the most inopportune time.
Dr. Steve Peters went into his role with England at the behest of head coach Roy Hodgson and with the backing of captain Steven Gerrard due to a glowing résumé of helping British athletes reach their potential.
"[He] is a very famous man in that area," Hodgson said. "We are really happy that going into this tournament … we got the man we wanted, someone who can understand the football environment and join us rather than someone who is going to lecture to the players."
Gerrard added that Peters, who enjoyed his most resounding success with Great Britain's Olympic track cycling team and its seven gold medals at the 2012 London Games, could help players learn "what goes on inside your head."
Yet no sooner had Peters been unveiled as England's secret weapon that things started to go wrong.
First, it was Gerrard, his highest profile client and a cornerstone of the England team.
Gerrard had been in outstanding form for months as Liverpool mounted an unexpected bid for the English Premier League title but, in the third-to-last game of the season, he shockingly slipped just before halftime to allow Chelsea's Demba Ba to score. The London club went on to win 2-0 and Manchester City regained control of the race en route to the Premiership crown.
Worse was to follow. Given how much Gerrard liked him, Peters was brought into a more developed role with several members of the Liverpool squad to work on a variety of techniques to improve their mental strength. But two weeks after Gerrard's infamous slip, an incredible Liverpool collapse followed.
Needing a win to keep pressure on Man City, Liverpool stormed to a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace, a team that spent the first half of the Premier League season in severe danger of being relegated to the second-tier Championship. The Reds understandably felt pretty good about life again. But then Palace stunned the visitors with a stirring comeback by scoring three times in the final 11 minutes to force a tie and effectively doom Liverpool's aspirations of winning its first league title in a quarter century.
On that same night, another Peters client, Ronnie O'Sullivan, was locked in a battle in the final of the World Snooker Championship. O'Sullivan has long touted the benefits of working with Peters but threw away a commanding 10 frames to five lead against rival Mark Selby and lost 18-14.
To compound it all, O'Sullivan was in a highway car accident with his son later that night (both were unscathed), leading to some cruel social media suggestions that Peters was something of a jinx.
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A few years earlier, Peters made some tongue-in-cheek comments that he was "coming from hospital medicine so as far as sports psychology is concerned I am completely fraudulent." That didn't exactly inspire confidence in his ability to end England's own curse from the penalty spot. But in reality, it is all a bit unfair.
Peters is a trained expert whose successes far outweigh the struggles of those he has assisted. He is a published author of strong acclaim and the attention brought upon the O'Sullivan/Gerrard/Liverpool situation says more about the English psyche than of his own abilities. He is far more likely to help the England team deal with its psychological scars from past defeats than to make things worse.
But English sports fans are a superstitious bunch. Nearly 50 years of ineptitude will do that to you.
"Peters is obviously an accomplished guy who has proven himself over a long period of time," said journalist Aidan Magee of England's Sky Sports News. "All this stuff is bad luck, but the timing of it is terrible.
"It is typical England, really. We are ready to seek out portents of gloom and doom and get our excuses ready first. Maybe that is why we are still waiting for success."
But hey, it could have been worse. They could have been scheduled to play a day earlier – on Friday the 13th.
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