This is a blog post i just have to write. I sat down to watch Brazil play Cameroon a few nights ago and was treated to a Brazil side stuck between two mentalities. The fearful “We’re playing at home with enormous expectations” Brazil side…and the ‘always thinking, always conjuring’ Brazil side. Here’s some further thoughts on the greatest nation ever to play the beautiful game.
I watched Neymar – the weight of a nation’s expectation on his shoulders. You can sense that he feels it. You can sense that he knows it. You can sense that it burdens him – sticky feet a result.
But when Neymar got lost in playing the game on Monday night, when he forgot the enormity of the want and will of a nation…then his feet started to dance. His brain, working in milliseconds, saw openings, saw positions, and gave permission for his body to act with freedom, with commitment, and with the decisive air of a playmaker striker.
A clever flick, a feint, a cheeky pass. Neymar’s delightful play became Brazil’s catalyst for one-touch football. Brave, bold, courageous. A thinking, conjuring Neymar – a thinking, conjuring Brazil.
Is Neymar super talented physically? Probably! But any footballer can work on being brave and bold. Any footballer can exercise their personal magic if he or she really wants to. It requires trust and it requires letting go.
What does that look like? What does that feel like? What does your own personal magical game look and feel like?
It requires acceptance, “I may lose this ball, but I’m going to keep playing, keep moving, keep working, keep my momentum”
Maybe Neymar does this because he’s allowed to get away with it. Maybe you as a coach want your players to retain the ball at all costs. Or maybe if you’re a player you have a coach who place an emphasis on ball retention.
I understand this – players must have an awareness of their limitations, whether it’s a personal limitation or the limits of what is acceptable in the position they play. But my response here is simple. What is your own personal brand of footballing freedom? What is your brand of footballing freedom within the role you play for your team?
Answer these questions by summoning up pictures of you at your best. As a defender you would never do the same flicks and tricks that Neymar does – but I urge you to open up your catalogue of pictures form personal recollection of you at your best, and uncover the best you…the free you…the you that looks up and plays a killer ball from the back without any indecision…or gets play moving through the thirds quickly and with an eye for passing progression. No fear, no doubts, no worries, no anxiety. Just freedom on the ball.
Will Brazil win this World cup. Possibly! Possibly not! We’ve seen the good and bad of the greatest nation ever to play soccer. But that’s intriguing viewing. What you are witnessing is a universal truism…not only in football but throughout competitive sport. The freer you play, the freer you compete…the more you invite a win. That is the football psychology we all need.