I've been thinking a lot about player pathways and all the great players over the years who made state rep teams, junior national teams, a-league squads etc only to drop off and never be seen again. Im looking at Daniel De Silva who is particularly worrying me. Going from potentially the best u16 in the world to having a career on the brink. Plenty before him (kaz Ptafta etc)This rather than being a problem is actually normal because very few players actually 'make it'. Hundreds of reasons these great young players 'don't make it' - many of which is out of their control. This could be very few pathways (as here in Australia), injuries, having un supportive coaches - list goes on.
So what then can a young player control? What then will give the young player the ability to keep moving up the ranks, eventually to be spotted, to be given those big chances at reaching their potential and going on to be successful professional footballers.
I started thinking about Daniel Arzani - who only 3 years ago was labelled un coachable by Syndney Fc. I also look at someone like Jackson Irvine who despite some limiting technique is someone who I would pick in any National team going forward. Same could be said for Timmy Cahill who during the golden period was not an automatic started but has gone on to be our greatest socceroo.
The answer - All these guys 'bring it' on game day. Nothing too revolutionary here but whenever we talk about youth development or one of our national squads doing poorly we talk about structural issues and poor technical development. Rarely do i hear anyone talk about being mentally tough. At the top the physical, tactical and technical difference are so small the only real explanation as to why Belgium and Croatia are more successful than bigger countries must be mental.
My son is in the elite young pathways here in Melbourne but I can tell you no coach has ever spoken to him about preparing for match day. It is almost as if this should be a natural occurrence when in fact the opposite is true.
The first step here is to actually make 'performing in games' a THING. I have written about basketball before and the superstars in the NBA are fully accountable for 'performing' in each game. It is talked about incessantly by the basketball media. Lebron James for years was derided because although his team was great and his stats were great he could not not be relied upon in the last 3 minutes to close out games.
So my advice is to tell kids that an important skill they all need to learn of they want to be successful footballers is to bring it every time they step on the pitch. Are they playing accountable football or are they letting others do the work? Did they score an important goal, did they land an important tackle - did they influence the game?
When Arzani was asked how he felt about playing the in the seconds at Celtic his response was great. He basically said it was fine because his only job was to bring it every time he stepped on the pitch so that by not picking him they (the gaffer) would look foolish.