As a kid growing up there was nothing more I wanted to be than a professional footballer. At the age of 15 I signed my first professional contract, and at the age of 32 I retired. The game was good to me, allowing me to live a boyhood dream and travel in multiple countries. The game has not changed, but the mindsets of the players have. How to become a footballer is a question I have been asked by virtually every youngster I signed an autograph for. It is your time now.
How to Become a Footballer in Africa
In my experience, the African players that I met playing in Asia had more physical ability than any other players I played with. The basic skills of football needed to navigate a pitch were obscenely apparent. The attention to detail in training by some of the Nigerian players embarrassed players like me from the UK. In Asia, I played with two Nigerian players that should have been playing in the UK Football League. The noticeable difference between the African player’s raw attributes and myself was the understanding of the game. The basic skills of football were possessed in virtually every African player I played with or against. The “football IQ” was what was lacking. I have thought a lot about this since retiring and it has burned in me whilst watching the EPL on the weekends.
The Curse of the Football Skills
Football skills will be described very differently by different people. To me, football skills are the harnessing of the fundamentals. I use the word fundamentals to describe: Passing, Shooting, Heading, and Technique. These are trained skills that are freely available to practice daily. As a young player, I would go to the pitch every day and practice shooting alone with a single goal and a single ball. I would practice with both feet to become as strong on my left as my right.
The rise of social media is tarnishing the efforts of young players these days. The flamboyance of footballers is destroying the very essence of what total football is about. Football Skills now is a mixture of freestyling tricks in the middle of games. I have seen thousands of social media profiles for young children focusing on the skills and tricks and not the fundamentals. I guess it is more attractive to see a player training flick flacks than it is receiving the ball on a half turn. I’ve a friend that plays in the English Championship; he is slow, weak, and hasn’t got one trick. He is probably one of the best technical players I have ever played with. This brings me to the next point.
How to really Become a Footballer
Despite popular belief, managers are not interested in the players that can do the most tricks. There is only so many Ronaldos that have made it to the top tier of professional football. Learning how to navigate a football pitch is the one of the most important skills to learn in football. The faster you learn to navigate a pitch, the more valuable you are to a team. By “navigate a pitch” I mean the understanding of the game. Two of the best examples of blended African talent are Yaya Toure and Jay Jay Okocha. Yaya had every physical advancement you could ask for in a player, Jay Jay had every skillset you could ask for. Both had a deep understanding of a football pitch – where to be, how to position their bodies, where the ball would drop – they were just perfect in anticipating the game.
Football clubs in UK start training elite kids by the age of 6. So, by the time these kids have reached 12 they have already trained and played against kids that have developed football IQ’s. The coaching standard is higher in academies than it is in local clubs, so naturally, the knowledge of players is higher. The separation comes as kids grow older and their physicality determines their potential. Are they big, fast, strong, athletic – as with any sport. Then, there will be a cull, and players will be dropped from squads like flies.
Learn Your Trade and Core Football Skills
With anything in life, practice makes perfect. As young black men, we are gifted with physical attributes above most others. The raw attributes that young players in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and most African nations possess represent their potential. The determining factor as to whether or not players will play professionally sits dormant in the brain! Watching football on TV should be homework. Seeing the players in your position and how they anticipate the game should be studying, not staring. The physical attributes you possess give you a solid chance at playing football professionally. So, build on that.
Movement, Spacial Awareness and Thinking Ahead
Elements that cannot be trained alone you need to build mental pictures of. When you are watching a game you should be analysing the movement of players, where do they go? If a winger wants to receive a ball in the channel what is his first movement? Ryan Giggs was excellent at this: He would run 5 yards toward the ball, taking his defender with him, to open up the space in behind him. Then bang, Paul Scholes would curl the ball round the corner into the space that Giggs had created for himself. The higher you go in football, the more you need to think. If you watch low level football, the movement would be a straight run into that space, all 10 yards of it, players like Giggs created themselves 20 yards with a simple diversion run.
How to Become a Footballer Today
Becoming a footballer is every childhood dream and it is hugely competitive. My Dad didn’t really give me anything good to move forward with in my life but I do remember one thing he said: “If you want something bad enough, do everything you can to go and get it”. Scouts are not waiting for you at your local pitches. Ring, email, text, social media DM, and hound every single club you want an opportunity at. I wrote a letter to 40 clubs as a 12 year old, one replied. The one that replied gave me a trial, I signed my first deal with them at 12.
Once I was in the system, I was able to move around the system because I had a name. Without that chance, I would have been still at the local pitches waiting for a scout. All the while, I would have been losing valuable knowledge time as those with opportunity learned more than I did. Be confident in your God given ability, and be fearless in approaching people to help you! If you enjoyed this article please share and check out our blog week to week!