He who must not be named

I am not allowed to mention his name again in this house. "The nation has suffered enough," she says. It is true that the coverage was incredible - and mainly from the posh papers. Neither the Mirror nor the Sun devoted as much space to, er, the person I can't name as the Times, Guardian, Telegraph and even the Indy.

Turned out to be a non-story - they kissed and made up - but it leaves us where we began with one of the greatest mysteries in sport. Why do players lose form and what can be done?

For months, Wayne has been rubbish - oh gawd, it slipped out - so has Torres: shadows of their former selves, shrinking in body and soul. Loss of confidence, clearly, but caused by what? A lingering injury? Possibly. Off-the-field traumas? I believe pro players can put all that stuff from their mind, once on the pitch. Dissatisfaction with the club's lack of ambition? The manager? Team mates? Yes, but that comes after the loss of form, not before. They have to blame somebody, not themselves.

So, what to do? Give them a bollocking, which is what Fergie does. But in the case of our friend, it didn't work. Dropping them is the other obvious ploy, but that can be self-defeating - they need to be played to play themselves back into form. A warm cuddle, an arm round the shoulder? My experience of W---- was of a shy, polite, sensitive young man. He didn't quite call me sir, but almost, and never swore in my presence.

Give them a break - go off to the sun, son, take the missus, relax, forget about fitba for a few days. Amazingly, that's what Fergie has done. It wouldn't work with Gazza. He'd come back two stone heavier. But it might help our friend.

The mystery is a mystery to themselves. When it happens, they just can't understand it. They are training as hard, perhaps even more so, doing
all the things they have done all their career, so why can't they now pass the ball? They try little changes, take a different route to training, sit in a different place in the dressing room, to no avail.

I asked Tottenham's Bill Nicholson, many years ago, what he did when a player or the whole team lost form. "There's only one thing you can do - work them harder."

Theories have moved on since then. People like Big Sam have brought in the trick cyclists, the analysis, the computer models, pin-pointing changes, but the problem remains the same: what do you do? Headshrinkers?

George Graham, when managing Arsenal, said that if he had a pound for every time a Hampstead psychotherapist wrote to him promising to cure his striker's loss of form, he would have ended up, well, even wealthier. Fans, trained in the mental arts or not, aways think they can sort it out.

“Form is temporary, class is permanent" is one of the oldest sayings in football. So if you think you have a class act on your hands, you agonise, give in, double his wages - anything to keep him happy, which is what has happened to . . . nearly said it.

But what if you've got that wrong and your star has peaked? That's the real worry.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.