How good is good enough in football?
This is the million dollar question in football (albeit the figure is significantly outdated in relation to today’s transfer market!). How good does a player have to be to make it as a professional footballer?
There are many factors that all need to come together for any player to make it professionally, but I wanted to answer this question from one particular angle: ball control/ball mastery/ball skills/ball manipulation/juggling/freestyle – whatever you want to call it, but basically I mean the skills a player can do with the ball (think kick-ups, flicks and tricks!).
Why are football ‘skills’ so important?
This is in response to those players, parents and football coaches who all say of a player (usually a defender!) things like: they don’t need to be able to do that; they’ll never use that in a game or it’s a waste of time – when talking about skill moves.
I would have to agree that often they’ll never need to use these skills in a game; however, what amazes me is that some players, parents and coaches believe that top-level professional footballers can’t do these things!
This was really highlighted to me when there were some clips of John Terry circulating on social media (see below): one of him on the training pitch scoring from behind the goal and controlling a high ball, another of him doing kick-ups with chewing gum and another of him playing keepy-uppy with his daughter in his house.
These videos blew people’s minds! They were genuinely shocked that a professional footballer (Ex England captain!) actually had football skills simply because he was a centre-back. I found this staggering; make no mistake about it – professional footballers are all good at kicking a football!
Why you should encourage your child to practice tricks
So why bother learning to do these fancy flicks and tricks if they are never going to do them in a game? Simply, if you have the ability to do these complex moves then you will find simpler moves easier to do.
Take the example of Raphael Varane, if he can control a ball like that then it is very easy for him to control the same pass using the inside of his foot – which he would most likely do in a game situation. Being able to do all these different moves teaches players how to control a ball better and this can be transferred to the game situation.
If you tell a player not to bother then you are doing them a disservice. I believe that if you expect a player to be using the upper limits of their skill set in a match then they will struggle compared with a player who has a more extensive skill set so in matches they are only being asked to do moves which for them are fairly simple.
A player who regularly does control the ball like Varane did in training in competitive elite matches is Neymar. So imagine the kind of things he must do in training! He has a much bigger skill set than Varane and regularly uses eye-catching skills in games, but he can certainly do more impressive things in training than he shows in games.
And it is this point again: the more skills you are able to do and do confidently, the more you will be able to incorporate into games and the better player you will be. Look at the Jan Vertonghen clip – it’s an absolutely phenomenal piece of skill! Yes he won’t do it in a match this weekend, but if he can do that, it will be very easy for him to control and pass a ball in the match.
For those players, football coaches and parents who say that they or their player is a defender so they don’t need those skills I think it is important to bear the following in mind: Jamie Carragher, Michael Carrick, Ashely Cole, Sergio Busquets and Rio Ferdinand all started out as strikers (Ferdinand as a number 10 according to Frank Lampard in a recent BT Sport interview) and there are many more examples.
Not one of these players had a very impressive goal return as professionals nor were they renowned for their ‘skills’ but they were prolific in their junior teams (and skilful!) which is what got them noticed in the first place. These players were the most skilful in their respective teams and as a result they were played in attacking positions, as they joined professional teams they were moved further back as they were competing for positions with more skilful players.
So if you are telling a young defender not to worry about doing skills, beware the skilful attacker who will drop back to take their place in the future! All professional footballers are skilful and professional teams have skilful players in every position – just because you don’t see them using their ‘skills’ in a game it does not mean they can’t do them.
It’s like kick-ups, the amount of times I’ve heard defenders say I can’t do kick-ups is ridiculous. I would bet my house that there is not a single defender in the Premiership who cannot do hundreds of kick-ups. They are professional footballers!
For young players too, learning new complex flicks and tricks can be one of the most enjoyable things about football and can certainly increase their self-confidence and motivation to practice.
Also, let’s be honest defenders - you’d much rather be a striker if you could!
Foot-Tech Academy provides children’s football coaching in Leeds for ages 4-14. Our skills-based curriculum guarantees development in a fun, enjoyable environment. Check us out on Facebook or visit our website at www.foot-techacademy.co.uk for more info on what we do.