Meet Vinay Menon, the Indian behind Chelsea's rise to the top of Europe
There are a number of factors that cumulatively led to Chelsea FC's impressive Champions League victory last night, Vinay Menon is a very important one amongst them.
As the dust settles on Chelsea Football Club's incredible victory over Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League final last night, it is worthwhile to acknowledge just how gigantic their victory is in the context of the current season.
The coronavirus pandemic and its implication on football notwithstanding, Manchester City were odds-on favourites to lift the trophy after a supreme English Premier League title charge. Moreover, just six months back, the Blues were hovering around mid-table after a string of poor results which eventually led to the departure of home-boy Frank Lampard.
How then did the club recover from a lacklustre start to the season to win the biggest prize there is in club football? Was it just Thomas Tuchel and his tactics, was it the players and their undeniable quality which was suppressed for long? Maybe, but a more comprehensive answer would be the mental toughness that every player at the club seems to have and to have always had. And there's an Indian who deserves all the credit for that, Kochi's Vinay Menon.
An MPhil in Sports Psychology, Menon has been working as a wellness consultant and mind strategist for the London-based club since 2008. His work took him to the Blue side of London via places like Rishikesh to Dubai where he had already made a name for himself. He then found himself in West London, to visit a Russian family and teach them his breathing techniques, without realizing that the Russian in question was none other than Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich himself. Having never been into football that much, taking on the job at Chelsea was a giant leap of faith for the judo enthusiast, but one that turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.
The first couple of years were hectic, as he had to travel around the world with Abramovich as his personal health consultant. But then, he was given a role with the first team and he hasn't had to look back since. Today, he has worked with almost all the big names who have been at the club in the last 12-13 years including the likes of John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard as well as managers like Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and so on.
"Sometimes we do yoga. Sometimes, I observe the players and talk to them for a long time. My work doesn't have a regular pattern. I help them remain calm and it doesn't matter how we do it or what we do," Menon had told New Indian Express a while back, further underlining the importance of mental health in a profession as demanding as top-level football. That is even more obvious after the year that the entire world has had to endure, but for Menon, ensuring that the players are in the right frame of mind is the biggest challenge amidst all the racism, abuse and off-field distractions that is a part of a modern footballer's life.
What is even more commendable is that he is one of the very few Asians working in European football, and that too for a behemoth like Chelsea. Speaking about how the players must have viewed him initially, Menon had this to say to The New York Times, ""In this world of European football they would have been thinking, who is this guy? Initially, they thought I was doing voodoo or something."
Today, however, his sessions on 'Adhyatma Vidya' or the science of the self, have become an integral part of the players' behind-the-scenes routine. He has also developed a programme called ARFA - Awareness, Recovery, Focus and Achievement, which helps channelize his subjects' negative thoughts and worries through a positive outlet. In the hyper-competitive world of European football, that makes a world of difference for a player who might be struggling for form or consistency.
So I ask the same question once again, what is the secret behind Chelsea's Champions League victory this term? The answer to that may involve a lot of footballing arguments, analyses and eventually, judgements, but at the core of it all, the impact that Menon and his methods of alleviating stress have had on Chelsea's players is an undeniable factor in their rise to the top of Europe, that too for a significant number of years.