A commonly asked question amongst the football community is what makes a great soccer player? What did Pele have? What did Maradona have? How can I become like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? There is no magic formula but there are key qualities that every top soccer player must possess. It’s a complex area but below are the 5 main soccer player attributes that you would see in a top footballer.
Football is often referred to as a universal language that is spoken globally. Technique is the vocabulary of football and it’s the base from which all soccer players are created. Soccer technique can be split into 3 main areas which must be mastered to be a top player.
- Ball mastery & control – The ability to collect, control and manipulate the ball with both feet, legs, chest & head.
- Dribbling & running with the ball – moving the ball in different directions at varying speeds with the ball in full control.
- Body movement & shapes – How you move your body efficiently with and without the ball to maximise impact with balance and coordination.
Just like learning a language, it does not happen overnight and will take years of learning with many hours of repetition. To be able to accomplish this is heavily dependent on the next soccer attribute.
Mindset is a very broad area with many contributing factors so again this is broken down into smaller segments. It is a key ingredient in a footballers make up and often determines which level you play at because the higher up the football ladder you progress, the more important the mindset becomes.
- Passion & Drive – The ambition and hunger to succeed. Often it is said that you either have it or you don’t. It’s that fire burning inside that comes to life on the football pitch.
- Mental toughness – In times of adversity, how does a player react? There are many highs and lows in a football journey and this trait often distinguishes those that can handle the pressure and make it to the top.
- Leadership – This is measured in different ways. You have leaders that organise and are vocal like John Terry or Tony Adams and those that lead by example like Steven Gerrard or Lionel Messi. Either way will work and it is a great asset to have.
- Coachability – As a player you need to be able to accept the feedback from coaches and teachers who are there to help you improve your game. How do players react or respond to instructions, criticism and suggestions? Are they open to learning new things?
- Self-Motivate – You hear stories about elite players staying back for extra training or spending hours upon hours mastering skills and techniques. This self-motivation to always want to better themselves by continuously learning and mastering can be a measure to the success of the player.
- Responsibility – Football is a team game but each player has a set of responsibilities both on and off the pitch. Does the player take ownership of these responsibilities and carry them out or do they shy away?
3. Game Intelligence
How often have you heard people saying words like “great vision”, “tactical awareness”, “footballing brain”, “composure on the ball”. These expressions constitute game intelligence and is probably one of the most difficult things to coach because football is random. You can’t predict the outcomes and you can’t cater for every scenario that is created on the pitch. To simplify, game intelligence is measured by the decisions and the speed at which they are made by a player on the pitch.
- Spatial Awareness – Players need to quickly visualise and understand the pictures that are created on the football pitch. Where are the players standing or moving and what are the distances and spaces in relation to the ball? How quickly can you create these pictures to help you make a decision as to your next move?
- Risk assessment – What happens if I run into this space or if I pass a ball into that space? Are you able to make the right decision that will have a positive impact for your team and minimise the risk. Just as in life, previous experiences help you make these decisions and football is no different. That is why you train and practice to help make those decisions but there are added elements like creativity, logic and taking a chance which will give the edge.
4. Team Player
Is it true there is no “I” in “TEAM”? Football is a team sport where you win together and you lose together. There have been many occasions where you could say that one player above all others is the reason for a team’s success such as Diego Maradona’s time at Napoli in the 1980’s along with recent successes of Ronaldo and Messi but they all relied on their team mates to help bring that success and they will all acknowledge that. As a collective and harmonised unit, the team will generally perform much better so it is key for a player to be able to operate to their maximum ability within this environment. Saying that it can often be the individual that does something special in a game that raises the level of the team. It could be a superb bit of skill, a great goal or a great tackle. The effort that you put in will generally rub off on others so there is no excuse for not putting in 100% effort.
In football the old saying, Together Everyone Achieves More is very true but the individual plays a big part too and that balance must be found.
At the professional level footballers are now seen as athletes. Their bodies are built and conditioned like top level athletes and this athletic ability can often set a player apart from others. At a younger age this element is far more difficult to judge because a soccer player’s body will develop at different stages which could be behind or ahead of others. In the early years, a player’s physique should be one of the last factors to look but when you do, these are the areas to focus on.
- ABC’s – Agility, Balance & Coordination are vital because there are so many movements that happen in a soccer match. This is with and without a football as you dribble, jump, turn and place your body into a variety of positions.
- Power & Strength – This is not the size of the individual but is more about how effectively you use your body to win a physical battle.
- Speed – This is not only straight line speed but it is the speed at which you accelerate, decelerate and how quickly you can change directions with and without a football at your feet.
- Stamina – As your body fatigues, your control, focus & decision making becomes impaired which are all critical in a match situation. The ability for a player to deal with the constant stop, start nature as well as endurance during a game to keep moving will be examined.
The journey to becoming a top soccer player will take many years so it is important to recognise that these 5 soccer player attributes will develop at different stages of a players adolescence into adult life but there is no doubt that all will be needed to be a top level soccer player. It also worth noting that all can be developed and worked on to improve a players abilities and take their game to the next level.
Just remember to
- Work your hardest!
- Train as regularly as you can!
- Always be learning!
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
- Dream Big!