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Nature vs Nurture

Monday, October 04, 2010

I’m sitting at home with the television on Sky Sports 2. Tottenham are about to kick off against FC Twente in the driving rain, you don’t need an HDTV to see that. When discussing the lineup, we aimlessly wander to the subject of Iniesta. “You know he’ll be remembered forever for that goal in the World Cup Final”. Pause, “Oh, and that goal against Chelsea too”.

This of course is nothing new to any of you, yet it is an incredible feat. The ability to score the most important goal of all when the clock is ticking and the pressure is on is what separates the “great” from the “excellent”. In that one moment with what may be the only chance, you have to have the belief, technique and mental presence to put it away. Iniesta of course is not alone, half the Barcelona team alone are players of this calibre. But is that what really separates them? That innate skill?

I’m reminded of an interview I read with Frank Lampard where he discusses his youth and footballing education. He tells a story of how his father, noticing his son’s weakness in speed devised a routine to improve his touch and quick thinking. He would stand Frank Jr in space with his back to a wall, whereupon he would kick the ball with strength. As soon as Frank Jr heard the sound of the impact he would turn and trap the ball. He learnt to use his right foot, left foot, his chest and movement to do so.

The eternal “Gerrard or Lampard” debate often hinges on this point. Gerrard is widely regarded as a player born with the skills he possesses whereas Lampard is said to be a player who worked at his craft. Yet the successes the latter has achieved as an individual are comparable if not greater.

There are other examples; David Beckham was renowned for staying behind after training to practise his free kicks - there’s a clip him taking kick after kick, one flying above the posts in a rugby fashion bouncing off the roof of the stand behind it. He said that he only ever used one ball, so the punishment of having to fetch it was enough to make him work that bit harder.

For every Lampard and Beckham, there’s a Heskey and a Kuyt. Just as for every Iniesta or a Gerrard there’s a Bentley or a Quaresma .

Tottenham’s David Bentley was once a starlet in the Arsenal academy, who after impressing with his form at Blackburn ended up at Spurs for £15 million. There can be no question over his skills, yet his off pitch issues may have cost him his career. Done for drink-driving in August 2009, Harry Redknapp was less than impressed and spoke of Bentley’s need to “develop a different side to his personality”. Later Bentley revealed how personal issues had affected his performances.

Remember Kieron Dyer? Following his move from Ipswich to Newcastle, the trappings of the off-field stardom of a footballer were too much for him. Once touted as a potential England star back in 2000 he found himself involved in a sex scandal with other England hopefuls Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard. Whereas Ferdinand and Lampard went on to bigger and better things, Dyer became notorious for his drinking and injuries. The rest as they say, is history.

Ricardo Quaresma is another; at 27 he is reaching what should the peak of his career yet he has been through Barcelona, Chelsea and Inter and ended up in Besiktas. In his youth at Sporting where he dazzled with his tricks, his understudy was a skinny boy with a heart condition (which later required surgery). That boy with his racing heart was called Cristiano. Cristiano Ronaldo.

Football is filled with those players who work hard and don’t make it to the top table and then there are those who were born with the skills yet don’t have the mental toughness to do the work to improve them. This was embodied in Real Madrid’s “Zidane’s y Pavon’s” policy of the last decade.

That team with it’s galacticos and it’s workers (and a terrific manager in Del Bosque) were superb for a good couple of seasons, however over time when the workers became of lower quality and the galacticos of bigger egos things turned sour.

Remember the playground? It’s lunchtime and everyone’s lined up against the fence waiting to be picked. Standing between big Hugo and toothy Matt are lanky Steven and little Andres. Next to them are pretty-boy David and stocky Frank. If someone asked you which two you’d rather have in your team you’d probably gun for Stevie and that little Spanish lad. But if you really want to win and go to Geography smiling from ear to ear, you’d need to pick David and Frank too.

P.S. What a great goal by Van der Vaart.

posted by teedoubleyou


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