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It’s time we let talented youngsters trace their own footballing identity

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Why do some promising young players not proportionally evolve at the same rate as they do when making the step jump from their junior teams to the senior teams? It is a question which never has had a simple and concrete answer. After all, footballing development of a professional is not as black and white as many people presume.

There have been several instances where many talented individuals had broken into the international and European footballing scenario with lots of promise. Thereafter they had either gradually vanished into nothingness or failed to make the next jump in ability and execution along expected lines. There are always some specific and discrete factors influencing each such individual cases. However, upon introspecting with a more general perspective and context one can extrapolate the situations to some common factors.

halilovic
Injuries and misfortune have not helped Alen Halilović, once tipped to take Iniesta’s place in the Barcelona set up

Sometimes recurring injuries at crucial moments in their carrier have halted their progress. At times lack of adequate professional discipline or family problems have been the culprits behind their downfall. Occasionally, it is due to the sheer incompetence of the managers to bring out the best in them. We have also noticed how lack of playing time also deters their progress. Not to mention the unreal stratospheric expectations burdened on their shoulders by media, fans, and managers alike which does more harm than good. Adjusting to a new league takes time. And when these young talents don’t have the cushion of time it ultimately stalls their progress too. However, apart from all these obvious reasons there also remain other factors, largely responsible but often overlooked by us.

Most talented players are overhyped by the media and experts alike to an unreasonable extent as the next big superstar for every dribble they successfully complete or goal they score. All of that indirectly harms them in ways that are not often understood. The fact that fans fail to at times accept and understand that not every talented individual is capable enough to keep performing at a very high level consistently doesn’t help either. In light of such misunderstandings, most people often end up labeling them as one season wonders, indisciplined players, spoiled brats and fame mongers.

Very few of us consciously accept and realize that while a player can be technically proficient at a very high level at a very young age, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a similar level of match IQ development that is often necessary to make the next jump. Most of these young players are too average in terms of their footballing IQ and maturity to take the right decisions on the field consistently with the ball or without the ball. Those players who possess the footballing intellect sometimes lack the confidence to apply it. Some argue that it is with experience that these prodigies can make the next jump in their careers. However, it doesn’t work that way always. Development of a players match IQ is a unique thing heavily dependent on numerous conditions and is thus not at the same rate for everyone.

macheda talented
Kiko Macheda was tipped to be United’s next Golden Boy. Fair to say the media hype and pressure didn’t help his cause.

Managers and the coaching staff provide the players with the necessary instructions, training drills, diet and even inspiration to extract the best out of them. However, it is their footballing intellect that affects their performances the most. Hence, despite all the training, there are always some players who are unable to read and interpret match situations effectively and perform accordingly. There are some who are afraid to make the risky choice and go for a dribble or risk a low success direct pass. There are others who are so consumed by the thought of playing safe and avoiding mistakes that they always tend to opt for the safest choices throughout the match and end up hardly impacting the game. 

Some lack the ability to stay focused and concentrate with utmost seriousness throughout the match. While others lack the ruthlessness to pull the trigger when the opportunity presents itself before them. Thus cognitive confidence plays a big factor in the overall performance of the players. The extent of influence of these factors is something that cannot be quantified. However, upon introspection, one can realize their overbearing impact on the stalling of the progress of most talented players.

Psychological factors sometimes play a bigger hand over football-related factors in influencing how a talented prodigy develops. Pressure of playing for a big club; the feeling of always being under the scanner; unfair and unreal expectations to perform in every match they play at an optimum level; fragile team camaraderie; low confidence investment from the manager; unfamiliar cultural ambience of the club and the city; ease of settling down in the new club for the player and his family, language barriers, etc. play a big part in shaping their progress.

The diverse range of possible factors that may affect the growth and development of a player often escapes our notice. We often act in a prejudiced way and end up unfairly blaming their social media interactions, private life, professional discipline, etc. Choosing these reasons subconsciously validates and encourages our mind to blame the players. At times these might be the reasons. However, for all those times they are not, do we even care to assess and understand the other possible factors when delivering our judgments on these players?. This is why it is high time that a thought process of strict realization, acknowledgment, consideration, and assessment of the other possible factors that may affect a player’s development should settle into our thinking.

Kerlon talented
Kerlon, the seal dribbler

We should also be more conservative when assessing the upper limit of these talented prodigies. We should condition our minds to stop believing every young talent to be the next big superstar in football. Producing a moment of magic once in a big match doesn’t necessarily mean that the same player shall be capable enough to deliver the level of consistency throughout the season.

This then gives rise to a debate. How can we definitively ascertain the potential and limits of a player? How can we be so sure that through subtle psychological, tactical, physical nuances a player can’t be expedited to a higher, better and a more consistent level? Well, the answer to such a debate is clearly subjective and open to how one interprets the player’s potential and all the possible range of factors affecting him.

Being more empathetic and open to considering all factors affecting a player doesn’t necessarily cushion him, freeing him off criticism. Nonetheless, it certainly helps to prevent him from being unfairly and detrimentally judged for being either too lazy, too undisciplined, too social media invested or too money driven. 


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Feature Image via Pundit Feed


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