Spotlight on the Academy – No 3

Spotlight on the Academy – No 3
May 6, 2013 Chris Rowland

By Arnar Steinsson:

“The day after we won our first European Cup, we were back in Melwood at 9:45 in the morning talking about how we would do it again, working right from that moment. Nobody has the right to win anything they haven’t earned.”

Sir Bob Paisley.

I think these words should be the first thing an aspiring football player has in his head every day he wakes up. The challenge he is facing is gigantic and he can’t take anything for granted. He has to truly understand how hard he has to work to get to where the players they admire and want to emulate are today.

If you look at the best football player in the world today, there isn’t much difference technically in the way he plays now at Barcelona as a four time Ballon d’Or recipient than there was when he was a nine year old playing in his hometown Rosario with Newell old boys. Lionel Messi was gliding past defenders with speed and agility and putting the ball in the back of the net countless times before he ever set foot on Spanish soil.

While it’s fantastic to watch the best player in the world doing the same thing back when he was a child that he is doing now, we don’t get to peek behind the curtain and see why he is still doing these things as an adult. I have seen many players develop over the years and noticed that parts of their game that made them stand out and excel in the first place start to fade away. They start taking it for granted or ignoring the aspects of their game that they need to work on. Without that, in most cases they will become one dimensional and average.

Lionel Messi managed to work hard enough to keep up his level of play in all his years of training. He has never allowed himself any room to relax and rest on his laurels. If he had, we wouldn’t be seeing the player we see today. Little by little, young Messi would have lost his edge and defenders would have found him out.

Not only did he keep on doing what he had been doing – which was extraordinary – but added to his game what he needed to add and weeded out the flaws that would have held him back from becoming a professional footballer. The only thing he wasn’t really keen on was playing on the left wing, but that’s about it.

On top of that there were physical challenges he had to deal with, starting with the hormone deficiency that required him to take painful hormone injections that were a real burden on his stamina regularly so he would be able to grow in physical stature like his peers. Many footballers would have caved in with the physical and mental burden of that alone.

He suffered from injuries as most players do as well, and injuries can setback the the mental determination of the strongest individual. He had to get used to a different culture, away from friends and most of his family which is not easy for anybody, let alone a child. But with all these hurdles set in front of him, he managed to have the mindset that nobody has the right to anything that they haven’t earned. That you have to work hard every day to earn the right to be the player he is today.

Of course not every footballer is blessed with the gifts that Messi was born with, but all of the players at the Academy at Kirkby have been singled out because good scouts and coaches saw potential in them, all of them are gifted from an early age. And first and foremost it will be up to the individual player how well they nurture their talent and how hard they work on getting the best of what they’ve got and work on what they need to do to get further in their development, one step at a time.

Of course there are some sad aspects for many players and that is when they fail to correct a flaw no matter how hard they work at it. From their vision and the reading of the game to not being able to take their eye of the ball and their feet when they have it is just one of many examples.

I chose to write about Messi because he is the best in his profession, but by no means has his journey been an easy one and I have only scratched the surface of the obstacles he faced. Every player can relate to it and put him as an example that they can become a better footballer with the right mindset and hard work that Paisley set out to demonstrate with what he said.

There have been highs and lows this season for the Academy and injuries have been taking their toll, which has further highlighted that we need to bolster our squads if we are to be at a competitive level in the leagues with Tottenham and Chelsea. We are pretty close to their level but their squads have more depth. Our exit from the NextGen campaign was largely down to injuries and our great youth cup run came to an end when we lost to a very good Chelsea side, partly due to injuries but also because of Chelsea had a better squad than us with more depth.

Of course individual development is the number one priority at Kirkby and it would be interesting to know what the Academy staff think about the subject of our squad’s depth. Winning is not the most important thing but learning as an individual is. A winning mentality is important I think but it has to be balanced. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for one or just a few players to carry a team and losing when they fail to do that.

The lesson from that can make a player too reliant on his own abilities and forget about getting his teammates involved, hell-bent on turning a game around with his own ability no matter how lost the cause is.

On the other hand, if the team is overly dominating they might not learn the skill to take charge when it’s needed in the future and they fail to take responsibility far too often. The coach’s responsibility is to find that balance and teach them both lessons.

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