Dr Steve Peters has been so brilliant at making Liverpool dismiss negative thoughts this season that at Crystal Palace they abandoned even negative concepts – like having a defence
One of my favourite nonsensical lines in Top Gun comes early on, when Tom Cruise's commanding officer opens a can of whoppass on him after a cavalier sortie. His verdict? "You're a hell of an instinctive pilot. Maybe too good." What is that, I always wonder delightedly as the CO has to do something he still can't believe he's gotta do, and send those two characters to Miramar. What is "too good?".
It is a description it may feel tempting to apply to Dr Steve Peters, the psychiatrist often credited with making Liverpool "play without fear" this season, and who – had he half an eye on Sky Sports on Monday evening - might well have been screaming "Be afraid! Be afraid! Oh my God – in the name of sanity, be afraid!"
Those of us who bought our diplomas from the Correspondence College of Armchair Psychology in Disco, Tennessee might have watched Liverpool throw pretty much everything forward against Crystal Palace at three-nil up, and wondered whether Peters might be classed as a victim of his own success – a man so brilliant at getting his Anfield charges to dismiss negative thoughts that they ended up abandoning even negative concepts, like having a defence. In terms of one's ability to get patients to divest themselves of all shackles, maybe that is what "too good" looks like.
It is certainly the interpretation I prefer, because the negative way of looking at it would be that there was a space of a little more than an hour or two on Monday evening when Peters' confidence must have come under heavy attack. There was the bonkers positivity of Selhurst Park, as noted, while over at the Crucible Peters was on hand to watch his most high profile individual devotee lose his head at the snooker World Championship.
Despite rallying after session breaks during which he availed himself of the good doctor's services, the Rocket was on his own out there, making one wonder what might have been achieved were Peters permitted an in-game, tableside role – and reminding me of an old New Labour joke. Did you ever hear this one?
A New Labour MP goes to a barber, who tells him he must take out the earpiece he's wearing. On no account, insists his client – though at some point in proceedings, the thing drops out by accident. The man turns slowly blue, and dies shortly thereafter. Stunned, the barber picks up the earpiece, puts it in his ear, and hears the dulcet tones of Peter Mandelson instructing "breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out".
A little digression down memory lane, there. Anyway. There is clearly a limit as to what the undeniably excellent Peters can do, given it is not him actually going into battle. Nevertheless, Monday cannot have been an easy day for this highly acclaimed mind mechanic, without whom the likes of Sir Chris Hoy insist they would never have won their gold medals – and the obvious conundrum is to wonder who could get Peters' own head right after it.
Consider the mind-boggling possibility of an infinity loop of sporting psychiatric professionals each having to treat a confidence-dented colleague before requiring the same ministrations for a vicarious meltdown of their own.
For those unfamiliar with what we might call the Peters doctrine, he pioneered the idea of the "inner chimp". The brain, so his hit book the Chimp Paradox has it, comprises a rational, human part, and an irrational emotional part, to which Peters ascribes this primate-inspired classification. The key to success is managing this chimp.
Quite what happened at Selhurst Park is expected to be the 12,000-word cover story in the next issue of Psychiatry Quarterly – or at the very least, a case for Dame Jane Goodall – but early readings suggest the inner chimp unlocked his cage, declined the offer of PG Tips in favour of a mescaline shot, and consequently imagined not that he could fly, but that this might be the manner in which to do something about Manchester City's goal difference.
It is arguable that a chimp has not disported itself quite so disturbingly since Michael Jackson's former associate, Bubbles, acquired his own personal assistant, sat in on production sessions for Bad, and ran up $20,000 of expenses on a single tour. Or, indeed, since the maids at Jacko's Neverland ranch testified to the judge in his molestation trial that the star's retinue of lesser chimps were required to perform household duties such as window cleaning and floor mopping, against which domestic burden they would frequently mount dirty protests.
In days of yore, of course, the salient question now would have been: what does Peters' eveningus horribilis mean for his most immediately significant clients: the England football team? But given Peters' designated role within the England set-up is to help the squad prepare for penalty shootouts, that inquiry feels somewhat academic. The possibility of England getting to a round in Brazil in which penalties might be required to decide anything is far too remote for a Chimps to chumps headline to be more than an outside bet. As for today's long-suffering supporters, they've never looked more sane and rational. In fact, it is fair to say our national inner chimp has been so totally subdued that it now works in Halfords as a windscreen wiper fitter.