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So what does it take to be a pro ?

 

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So what does it take a professional footballer ? Not just a run of the mill player but a world class player: technique, pace, desire, luck, athleticism, consistency, strength (mental and physical), and possibly a few more.

This is why when we watch a Premier League match that we see some players make football seem a simple game to play. The fact of the matter is that if it were that easy then everybody would be doing it. I don’t mean the previous comment flippantly but it’s true. That is why top footballers are seen as heroes, because they can do something that many, many other people only dream of being able to do. One reason why the top clubs around the world pay such high wages and transfer fees is because only 1 or 2 people can replace or improve the squad they have. Take the current Wayne Rooney situation. How many players in the world could replace Rooney and how much would it cost. It probably made financial sense to give him his reported £230,000 per week. Put simply, it is a supply and demand scenario.

So, on, the flip side of the coin can you imagine a scenario where there were many players, hundreds maybe, who could replace or even improve a team or squad. As there are so many players available the value of the player would be much lower because the club would know that if player A will not sign then there is a queue of another 100 players who will be very happy to. Well, this scenario is what happens year on year in the lower leagues. An estimated 600 professional are out of contract at the end of each season. If players are deemed not good enough for the Premier League then they will, in a lot of cases, find themselves one tier below in The Championship. This then forces those released by Championship clubs down to league 1 and so the trend continues to where players released by a league 2 club have nowhere to go but non-league or retirement. With lower league clubs always looking to cut costs, sometimes it comes down to he who will be cheapest will get the contract. I have heard of instances where clubs have asked players the least amount of money that they will sign for. If they ask 10 players then you really need to pitch it low to get the contract.  Normally it is young players with little first team experience who are seen to be cheapest and is for this reason that many youngsters can be found in the bottom two leagues of English football, many not good enough but thrown in anyway because a higher wage cannot be afforded.

With the majority of the media attention focusing on the Premier League this has taken the lion’s share of money to the top flight.  Much smaller sums are filtered down the league ladder. That is just the way it is. More people want to watch Premier League football so that is where the largest percentage of the money is. Let’s be honest here. Premiership football is a lot easier on the eye. Even a die-hard lower league football fan would have to admit it.

So what makes a lower league footballer? Well, firstly, in order to be a pro footballer at any level still requires many attributes. Although the standard can sometimes seem poor you do need to possess many strings to your bow.  What you do find though is that maybe a lower league player will have a few, or many, less of the attributes needed to play at the top. Let us use Rio Ferdinand this time as an example. How easy does he make the game look? To watch him we see his pace very evident. Not many players knock it past him and get the ball on the other side do they? We also see how composed he is on the ball. Another facet of his game is his distribution. Add to this his aerial ability, desire to win, physical strength, concentration and outstanding level of consistency then we can appreciate what a great player he is. So let’s imagine a centre back with some, but certainly not all of these attributes. If there was a centre-back who had decent aerial ability but lacked pace then he would not make a top class player. Or even a centre-back who has outstanding pace but cannot pass the ball too well, or who has poor positional sense. This player too will not play at the highest level. So where do they go? Well, they filter down the divisions eventually finding their level. So when you have a manager who has a centre-back on his hands who has poor distribution then why would he ask this player to attempt intricate passes from the back putting his job in jeopardy?  The line managers take is ‘just head it and kick it’ and who can blame them. What we then see is a long ball brand of football where players are seldom asked to do much more than get the ball forward at the earliest opportunity. It eliminates the risk. If you imagine this for every player then you can begin to see why the lower leagues are played in the way in which we see. There is a saying that is often heard in the lower leagues that you can’t play your way out of the bottom divisions. The thinking behind this is quite simple. Lower league players are not good enough to ‘play’. If you close them down and give them less time on the ball they will not have the technical ability individually or collectively to play under pressure. The other team members do not have the necessary ability to control and pass the ball too and therefore they will give the ball back to you by either kicking it out of play or being re-possessed. This then creates a ‘let’s not give the ball away close to our goal’ mentality and therefore the ball is played forward earlier and more often. I would even go as far to say that if a team was to try a passing game they would quickly be tagged as a team who ‘over-plays’. Opposing managers then change tactics when playing against them and close them down to the extreme. 

Myself, I had no height (obvious there!), no real strength, not a lot of pace (especially towards the end of my career). I did have good technical ability, awareness, an eye for a goal and a good football brain. I had some, but not all of the attributes to play at the top. So this is why I played the majority of my career wherr I did. 

 

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