With Euro 2012 almost upon us we have a wonderful opportunity to witness not only some of the very best professional footballers in the world in action, but we can, with a little imagination, also try to discover just what it is that makes these top players so special. There are many requirements that must be in place before an individual can even begin to contemplate taking his place in the pantheon of European football and some of these requirements might not necessarily be in the minds of most people.
Talent is the obvious requirement to most peoples’ thinking. But, what exactly is talent? And how important is it in the overall scheme of things?
Well, in my opinion, talent is merely a stepping-stone on the path to success. Many professional footballers have talent, some even possess extravagant talent, but never make any significant impact on the game and their careers become periods of frustration rather than fruition. So what must talent do to become something of substance?
Well, for a start talent is often mistaken as skill. Skill however, is an art more than it is a talent. Skill it is an ability to control a football and force it to do what you want it to do. Oddly enough, the most skilful individual I ever worked with was a ball juggler who toured America with me many years ago. He could keep the ball in the air for however long he wanted to and get it to do some amazing things but was one of the worst players I have ever played with. He could not take his skill into a game situation.
Too many people mistake skill for talent and consequently fail to appreciate the beautiful reality of what professional football is actually all about.
Talent is probably best described as the ability to use skill in pressurised situations that consist of the forceful combination of opponents, circumstances and expectancy while all the time retaining control, confidence and belief. There are many different elements that must be in place before a footballer can contemplate calling himself a talented professional and essentially due to the lack of space, I will offer just four for your consideration.
1. Ego is a hugely misunderstood aspect of top class sport. While many observers of professional football equate ego with an over-inflated sense of self-importance and eccentric or boorish behaviour, the truth is something quite different. There is not a successful individual in any walk of life that does not possess a very active ego. Ego can be dangerous but it can also be tamed and channelled and it is a vital ingredient for a healthy sense of self.
A healthy and professional ego focuses on creativity as much as it does on competition, perhaps more, and it declines any notions of superiority and inferiority, while at the same time remaining confident and coachable. Ego is often mistaken for conceit or arrogance but a true professional ego rises above such ignoble traits.
2. Belief is another intrinsic part of talent. Belief leads the player to confidence not just in himself, but also his teammates, his club and in the very essence of the game itself. This is a belief in everything vital to the health of the game and consequently to the good of the individual in question. It encompasses a childlike love for, and a highly committed adherence to, accepting and implementing these responsibilities.
3. Relationship is about the desire and ability to maturely connect with others involved in partnerships, professional or otherwise. This desire to blend ones talent with like-minded people and consciously propel ones total allegiance to the affiliation displays a heightened sense of awareness of what constitutes lasting success individually and collectively. The willingness to merge separate talents, hopes and ambitions in a concerted effort to succeed opens avenues to what is conceivably one of the most admirable of human attributes - trust.
4. Trust is an essential component in the realisation of ones talent. That success builds success is inarguable. However, the primary success, that very building block that supports all other and consequent success, arrives when a player trusts his talent completely and then expands this trust to his team mates and manager. This immense progression facilitates another in turn as genuine trust seeks validation for these combined talents and this is only supplied by achievement. The greater the degree of trust, the more consistent and secure the achievements can be.
So while watching the proceedings in Euro ’12 this month, observe not just the obvious but open your mind to the more profound and fascinating area of player and team development. The best players have experienced the greatest tests and emerged not just unscathed but completely sure of their place in the world of professional football. The European Championships offer them the opportunity to demonstrate their rightful place on the best possible stage at this moment in time.