Inspirational coaches and former players have a key role in the unreal journey of many young hopefuls who make the leap into the professional game
It takes more than talent to make a footballer.
Ask any professional and they will tell you that they learned most about the game from people they admired as youngsters and, without the guidance or example of those influences, they would never have become the players they were or are.
While there are the elite few who are so talented that everything else comes naturally, the vast majority of players have required help along the way.
For some that has meant hours of studying their heroes, and for others it was the opportunity to learn from mentors who had already experienced the rigours of professional football.
The famous ‘Class of 92’ at Manchester United was nurtured by the club’s youth coach Eric Harrison before going on to rack up over 3,450 first-team appearances between the six of them. But there are influential figures from every walk of life for footballers at every club.
“For me, it was about being inspired by others as a kid,” former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown told Goal. “We didn’t have television too much and I remember the 1974 FA Cup final.
“Kevin Keegan was my hero at the time, a great player, hard-working, and he was the star player so I wanted to be him. I just set about copying everything he did.
“I passed the ball against the wall in the back garden for hours on end until I perfected my technique, and then suddenly was let loose on my eighth birthday with the local Sunday team.”
Growing up in Brazil when the country was winning World Cups for fun had a huge effect on hopeful players and coaches such as Carlos Alberto Parreira, who later went on to take the Brazil job.
“I was a young kid living in the small areas of Rio de Janeiro outside of the main centre, and when I was 14 years old I was very touched by the first time Brazil won the World Cup,” he said.
“In those days, back in 1958, we didn’t have televisions – only radios and newspapers – but when the final against Sweden finished I could see people in the streets shouting, singing and crying. There was happiness all around.
“Then when the players returned to Brazil three days later, there was a parade in Rio with everyone saluting them for having made us the world champions for the first time. That touched me, and I said to myself that I wanted to be somehow involved in those kinds of celebrations.”
And once he had begun to focus his career path on football, Parreira found extra help in the shape of a legendary coach.
“I really started to learn under Mario Zagallo,” he explained. “He was the coach when I was on the technical committee in 1970, and we became friends.
“We worked together with Fluminense and won the league, and then in 1975 he invited me to go with him to Kuwait where I assisted him and helped him speak English before taking over when he had to leave.
“Zagallo was the guy who really helped me to learn about football. He really was the master.”
The experiences of many professional coaches and players prove that listening and learning are just as important as practising when it comes to making it as a footballer. Winning comes from within.
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