Channel your inner child
“I always played football on the street as a kid, in any space that we could get our hands on. We used to set up a goal and off we’d go, with everyone joining in. These were my best moments as a kid and I try to take that enjoyment into my game now as a professional. You get a lot of touches of the ball on the street and develop skills that you take into adult football. There’s no better education for a player – even adults.”
“Like anything, what you do as a youngster, especially for fun, impacts on your later career. The more you play just for fun, the more intuitive your game becomes and the less you think about the mechanics of it. After that comes practice – on the street, during training or after. There’s no better way to improve, and the skills you learn on the street are invaluable. You become more creative and this influences your 11-a-side game.”
Embrace the dribble
“Playing on the street taught me to look after the ball at all costs. People talk about using your body to keep hold of it, but for me the best way is to dribble your way out of trouble. When you are under pressure, you must look for the best solution, so I get my head up to find that half a yard to play a simple pass to a team-mate who is in a better position and without the attention that you have from the opposition.”
Don’t abandon talent
“I’ve never been the sort of player who uses their physique to dominate the opposition. If I had to give one piece of advice to someone who physically isn’t all that, I’d say don’t get frustrated and abandon your technique. I’ve worked hard in the gym to be stronger, but my biggest strength is what’s in my head. I think well and that’s how I stay one step ahead. Play to your strengths – and don’t worry about your height!”
Take risks for reward
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is ‘risk comes from above’. Pressure is part of playing in central midfield, and your team is most at risk when you are deep and the opposition want to win the ball back high up the pitch. Be aware of your surroundings. This is a lesson that comes from playing street football, but be confident to play from deep so you start your own attacks – risky, yes, but the rewards are obvious.”
Concentrate to the end
“I’m lucky to play in a team, and under a coach in Pep Guardiola, whereby we constantly look for the pass. Everyone plays with great vision. There’s no player who can’t dribble or pass with great quality. Concentration is instilled in us: to not lose your focus late in matches, because this is where you turn winning positions into three points. It’s like when I was a kid – keep playing until the end of the game and you will succeed."
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