The Spartans of Soccer
I wrote a blog last year on Andrea Pirlo where I nicknamed him the lazy genius. I was questioned, understandably, on the nickname based on the premise that he is far from lazy. Agreed, Pirlo isn’t lazy by any means but he is non-chalant. He does everything with such fluidity and ease that it almost seems lazy – as if going for a Sunday stroll through the Garden of Eden.
Over the past few weeks I have observed Mesut Ozil of Arsenal Football Club dwindle from a former German Player of the Year to being unable to threaten the most meagre of Premier League opposition. A player with the same technical ability as Pirlo but unable to dominate a game as such. Furthermore, Ozil has been rubber stamped as lazy by pundits and fans around the world. Notwithstanding the occasional defence splitting pass, Ozil has been something of a bystander for Arsenal throughout the season.
What differentiates players with equal technical prowess into different categories of appraisal?
Ultimately, to be dominant in a footballing world containing a plethora of world class talent requires more than one supreme ability. Paul Pogba is a physical specimen who possesses strength, stamina and sublime ball control. Antoine Griezmann holds skill in abundance combined with finishing ability and creativity. David Silva can destroy teams through finishing and passing to equal capacity. Harry Kane has emerged as England’s best goalscorer and has the physical strength to hold up the ball despite taking a constant battering from opposition defenders. Cristiano Ronaldo has such excellent football intellect that he has evolved from a winger with pace to burn to the most lethal striker in world football.
Described above is the upper echelon of world footballers however, what of the next tier? The players who have the ability to be commanding but are often berated for their lack of success in imposing themselves on football games. Mario Balotelli is a beast of a specimen with undoubted potential yet was a nomad in football terms until his recent arrival in Nice. Lukas Podolski was a lethal finisher on the World football stage yet in club football where consistency is of utmost relevance, he was bit-part player at best. Hatem Ben-Arfa and Samir Nasri were labelled as once in a generation talents yet their potential is still to be fulfilled.
The mental strength and balance of an individual is the most important element in the composition of a world class footballer. Look into the above names and take note of the clubs that they play for. Nice, Galatasary and Sevilla. Ben-Arfa is now with Paris Saint-Germain but only after taking a round-about way through Newcastle, Hull City and Nice. The clubs are fantastic but they are not world class yet the talents listed have not been able to make the cut at the best of the best – and it’s not due to their lack of footballing ability.
Mental strength. We hear it repeatedly but what exactly does this capability mean?
Desire, the passion within to succeed and be victorious. An elite footballer cannot go onto the pitch and just ‘enjoy’ playing football. They must envelop the desire to succeed which will elevate them to superiority. Alexis Sanchez is nothing short of an animal on the football pitch. He runs opposition teams ragged, throws himself into tackles and wears his passionate heart on his sleeve. His success is evident through two Copa America victories with Chile, numerous accolades with Barcelona and two FA Cup victories with Arsenal.
Commitment, the will to put in the extra mileage in training and on gameday. The greatest footballers all have stories of arriving early and staying late at training to hone in on their weaknesses and turn them into strengths. They eat, sleep and breathe the game. David Beckham wasn’t born possessing the greatest free-kick ability to ever grace the green turf:
Spartanism: brave; undaunted. The strongest footballers, just like other athletes, are Spartans of their sport. The Spartans were the most impressive militant culture in the history of mankind. Their training was of the most rigorous and disciplined and their style of warfare is still lauded today.
The above competencies are but a few which can elevate a player from great to the greatest. If becoming part of the greatest footballers fraternity was based on skill alone, anyone could do it. The most tremendous weren't born immense but they put blood sweat and tears into becoming elite – ultimately they got out of the game what they put in - success is earned.