1 UNDERSTAND WHAT IT TAKES
More after the break
“At 13,” says Arsene Wenger, “you would have needed about one minute to know that Lionel Messi was the real thing. Most players aren’t so obvious.” This, in other words, is where the real work starts. You’ve got talent, that much is clear, but knowing what else you need to make it as a professional footballer – and there’s a lot – is vital. “Dedication” and “sacrifice” are the words used most often by FourFourTwo Performance’s panel of experts, but what do they mean in real terms?
2 STAY MOTIVATED
“If you want to be great, you have work hard. It doesn’t just happen overnight.” It may sound clichéd, but England and Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is not alone among FFT’s experts in believing a constant quest for self-improvement is the only way to be the best. But, says England striker Charlie Austin, never “lose sight of what made you start playing football in the first place”. Or, as the Premier League’s best player, Eden Hazard, puts it, “keep smiling and enjoy it”. Work hard, have fun, and you’ve got every chance.
3 DISCOVER THAT INNER CONFIDENCE
Now you know what it takes to become a pro, it’s vital you believe you have what it takes. “If you haven’t got that confidence, there’s no point playing the game,” explains Derby County star, Tom Ince. Such self-belief comes in many forms: body language, preparation, positive thinking. Nothing breeds confidence like success, though, and to be successful in the future you need to have to confidence to do what has brought you success in the past, something Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain calls a “no fear” approach.
To find how The Ox and others retain their self-belief, read on…
Daniel Sturridge: Run rings around the opposition
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Making a step up in class
Tom Ince: How to make the grade
4 GET FOOTBALL FIT
Now your head is in the right place, it’s time to build the key cornerstone of every professional player: a match-ready body. And gone are the days of cross-country runs and bulk-building weight sessions. As elite strength and conditioning coach Nick Grantham explains, football is “characterised by a high number of brief, high-intensity movements”. For this, you’ll need stamina and leg power, core strength and agility, raw pace and a prodigious leap, not to mention the ability to speed up, slow down and change direction. Over and over again. Nobody said it would be easy.
5 PUT THE RIGHT FUEL IN YOUR ENGINE
When the man who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final speaks, you’d better listen. “Diet is an important part of the professional game,” says Bayern Munich and Germany playmaker Mario Gotze. “A healthy and balanced diet helps me stay physically and mentally fit, which of course reflects in my performances on the pitch.” But, as our experts reveal, it’s not just about what you eat – and drink – but when you eat it – and in what quantities.
6 THE RULES OF RECOVERY
As a professional footballer, you will sometimes be expected to play three games a week, running anything up to 12 kilometres per 90 minutes, so it’s safe to say drinking the pain away down the pub with your mates is not an option. Welcome to a world of protein shakes and ice baths; injury-prevention exercises and bespoke warm-down routines; sleep training, recovery tights, foot care and even a little pampering. For a footballer, resting is as important as running.
Follow these links and learn how to recuperate, re-charge an be ready to go again…
Recovery: A how to guide
Micah Richards: Recharge your batteries for the next game
Shane Long's rules to recovery
Bobby Zamora on recovery
7 HONE YOUR TACTICAL AWARENESS
Individual talent is one thing, but from ages 16 to 18, Arsene Wenger starts to look at whether a footballer “understands how to connect with other players”. This is a team game, after all, and as you step up a level, understanding your role as part of an 11-man framework becomes increasingly important. And while England U21 manager Gareth Southgate says “simplicity is genius” when it comes to tactics, believing few players respond well to complicated strategic instructions, becoming a student of the game will help make you a more complete player.
Some tips to help you understand and carry out your team’s masterplan…
Harry Kane: Understanding tactics
How to explain tactics
Watch and learn
The camera phone coach
Gareth Southgate: Simplifying tactics
8 PERFECT YOUR SKILLS
“Unless you’re dedicated, you’ll never be a better player,” says Eric Harrison, revered coach of Manchester United’s Class of ’92. “Practise, practise, then practise some more.” Only then will all the basics become second nature and you’ll you be able to put them all together under pressure. We all know football’s fundamentals: first touch, passing, shooting, crossing, heading, tackling. But the use of these skills varies hugely depending on your position and the game situation. And are you really going to make it to the top with just one good foot?
It’s no secret that in order to feel the part, many top footballers need to look the part – even away from the pitch. “It’s all about the way you carry yourself,” says body language expert, Robert Phipps. Whether you aspire to be a Champagne Charlie, Solid Citizen or Stylish Swashbuckler, your hair, skin and clothes will all need attention if you want to present the right image and feel good about yourself.
10 HAVE THE COMPLETE KITBAG
Now football is a career rather than a hobby, just making do is no longer an option when it comes to being equipped for matchday and training. From boots to baselayer clothing, music to medical extras, toiletries to tape – nothing is too insignificant if it puts you in the right frame of mind and body to perform. Do you have everything you need at home now you’re a full-time athlete? Is it worth investing in a TRX, medicine ball or plyometic ladder? It’s almost time…
Step out on to the pitch in match-winning equipment with our guide to the kitbag essentials…
How to choose the perfect football boot
Build your own gym
James Milner: Me and My Boots
Stewart Downing: Me and My Boots
Harry Kane: Me and My Boots
11 GET IN THE ZONE
Think you’re ready? Think again. In fact, thinking is exactly what you should be doing at this point. Wayne Rooney, like most top players these days, practises visualisation techniques to get him in the zone. “It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy,” says the England captain. “It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen [on the pitch].” Just one example of how having the right mentality doesn’t happen overnight. Like everything else, it can be coached.
Listen to FFT’s experts and learn to think a good game...
Wayne Rooney: Big match preparation
Gary Neville: Become a master of mentality
Clint Dempsey: Mental preparation
Top five tips for football visualisation
12 IMPRESS AT A TRIAL
Having prepared meticulously for this moment, it’s now all about making sure nerves don’t get in the way of you. “The most important thing is to make sure you do the basics right,” reckons Rene Meulensteen, the former Manchester United first-team coach. “Don’t be afraid to show initiative, but sometimes players try so hard that they make mistakes and it snowballs into a poor performance.” In other words, play the game, not the occasion. That’s what will get you noticed. As well as using visualisation and breathing techniques, it’s important to take confidence from knowing you have prepared as well as is humanly possible. Focus on putting that preparation into practise and your destiny awaits.
We’ve given you the tools; time to make a final checklist before your trial…
Dealing with nerves
Man United's guide to preparing for a trial
Shake off those pre-game nerves
Tom Ince: Overcome crippling pre-match nerves
How to warm up and warm down