Are YOU a Big Game Player?
Butterflies swarming your stomach, blood coursing your veins, tingles throughout your extremeties. What is it about this beautiful game that causes the body to succumb to such emotion?
I was a butterflies’ kind of guy. During youth football, I would get to the pitch with minimal disturbance however, as kick-off approached my stomach would be overcome by a tumultuous rendition of flocking. The bigger the match, the more rapid the swarm. Some of my teammates were yellers, others were undisturbed and seemingly unconscious to the occasion. I even had teammates that varied in preparation habits from punching a wall until their knuckles were black and blue to others so overcome with anxiety that they regurgitated their pre-game pasta.
Regardless of the pre-game routine and habitual expressions, some players are big game performers and others seem to capitulate when push comes to shove.
The reason that Lionel Messi is still ‘arguably’ the greatest footballer to ever grace God’s good earth is because he has never won a major competition hence, is not considered a big game performer by some. Despite eight La Liga and five Champions League triumphs, the grandeur of winning the European Championship or World Cup garners much greater accolade. Why? Because you are seemingly playing the best of the best – the most fabulous players from the greatest footballing nations. I don’t gravitate to this philosophy at all. For one, the World Cup consists of 32 teams which are dispersed continentally. Despite the obvious talent scattered throughout the competition, the parity between these nations is miniscule.
Let’s take Lionel Messi’s last Champions League triumph with Barcelona versus Argentina’s march to the World Cup Final in 2014. Here are the teams played per respective competition:
Barcelona (2015 UEFA Champions League):
Group Phase: Paris Saint Germain, Ajax of Amserdam, APOEL
Round of 16: Manchester City
Quarter-Finals: Paris Saint Germain
Semi-Finals: Bayern Munich
Argentina (2014 World Cup):
Group Phase: Iran, Nigeria, Bosnia
Round of 16: Switzerland
The proof is evident that winning the Champions League is, on average, more difficult than winning the World Cup.
Had Cristiano Ronaldo not been part of the Portugal squad that won the European Championship, his merits would be questioned by some of the biggest pundits in the world – despite having won the Champions League three times with Manchester United and Real Madrid amongst numerous other personal and team awards. My stance is that Ronaldo, Messi, Maradona and Pele are in the same echelon of greatness - despite their differing plethora of accomplishments. The value to their respective squads is undisputable.
A big game player is defined by rising to the occasion, playing the role as best player on their team and ultimately leading their troops to glory. It is far too naïve to think that victory will be achieved at every attempt however, what defines success is the ability to get up and fight on after being knocked down and counted out - and this ultimately creates a champion.