Richard Barrett takes a look at the two types of modern-day footballers, those motivated by success and those motivated by fame. He makes the comparison between the likes of Sergio Canales and David Bentley, both talented players but with contrasting careers.
As the 2013 Champions League entered the knock-out phase, I found myself compiling an imaginary ‘Euro Elite’ team based on the best players left in the tournament. The usual suspects , such as Messi, Ronaldo, Zlatan et al, were part of my team well before I had finished picking my goalkeeper (Manuel Neuer). As I began to pick and choose between various wing backs, I decided to have a look at the Valencia squad, for fear that I may have left out a big-name player in the twilight of his career. Although names like Ever Banega and Aly Cissokho were appealing, one name in particular caught my eye.
When Sergio Canales was just seventeen-years-old, he made his Primera Liga debut for Racing Santander. Despite his youth, Canales seamlessly made the step up to top flight football and a move to Real Madrid soon followed. Canales was touted as a future world star, but he was unsettled in Madrid and made only ten appearances before moving to Valencia on loan. The loan move to ‘Los Che’ was made permanent on July 2012 and Canales was finally able to start a new chapter in his footballing career. Unlike so many young players before him, Canales put his Madrid failure, and an unfortunate long-term injury, behind him and has finally begun to return to form for Valencia.
When Canales exploded onto the scene for Racing Santander, the Spanish media saw him as a future leading light for the national football team. As his performances improved, so did attendances and media interest. Canales made the natural progression to Real Madrid, signing a six-year contract and even scoring on his pre-season début. Big-money moves may change players and they can become, somewhat naively, distracted by off-field activities. Although the Madrid move was not a success, Canales did not let the darker elements of Madrid corrupt him and he behaved himself impeccably at the club. Instead of sitting on his bank balance and seeing out the remainder of his Madrid contract in the reserves, Canales wanted to prove he could cut it at the elite level and his move to Valencia gained the youngster a lot of respect.
The reason for sharing the above anecdote about the talented ‘Sergi’ is because he represents one of two types of young players in the modern game. Young, promising players can be categorised under two headings: The ‘Success-Hungry’ player and the ‘Fame-Hungry’ Player. Canales personifies the ‘Success-Hungry Player’. He is motivated by a will to succeed and will do anything to reach his full potential. He measures his career by trophies and on-field achievements, while the ‘fame-hungry’ player is more fixated on cashing his next pay-check so that he can buy a pink Range Rover (reference Stephen Ireland). While the ‘success-hungry player’ spends his spare time on the training ground, the ‘Fame-Hungry’ player goes home and thinks of what to write on his t-shirt should he score at the weekend (Why Always Me?). The ‘fame-hungry’ player searches for ways to be tomorrow’s big story, the ‘success-hungry’ player knows the headlines will write themselves.
As I delved deeper into European, and in particular English, football, I began to categorise promising young players under the headings mentioned above. Within five minutes, I had compiled a list of players that so perfectly fit under each one. It was amazing to note that the ‘fame-hungry’ players were undoubtedly more talented technically, but the ‘success-hungry’ players were a lot more consistent. In top-flight football, it is clear that consistency is much more important than sporadic moments of brilliance ( Gary Neville vs. Geovanni). One comparison that really stood out for me was Antonio Valencia vs David Bentley.
When David Bentley burst onto the scene for Arsenal in 2003/04, comparisons were immediately made with Denis Bergkamp. Bentley was unbelievably gifted and one of the most technically-proficient footballers England had produced in years. However, it appeared that Bentley was more intrigued by the life of a footballer, as opposed to a life playing football. Spells with Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur (£15million) followed, as well as a number of loan spells. However, Bentley never truly reached his potential. I have no doubt that nine-out-of-ten people reading this article will not know where Bentley was playing his carer at the start of this season: FC Rostov (on loan). One wonders if Bentley will ever return to the level he produced at the beginning of his career.
Antonio Valencia on the other hand, knows his limitations as a footballer. Any one that has watched a Manchester United game could tell you that Valencia is extremely one-footed. He is going to play the ball to one side and run the other before crossing it in. Simple football. Then how is it that David Bentley, a much more talented footballer, is the one playing for a team that nobody has heard of, and one-footed, predictable Antonio Valencia is playing for the biggest club in the world? It all comes down to attitude. Valencia is aware of his limited abilities, but works to improve other parts of his game, such as his speed and power. Bentley however, a chief representative of the ‘fame-hungry’ footballers, is satisfied that his natural ability is enough to get him VIP status in clubs for the rest of his life, alongside the likes of Ricardo Quaresma and presumably, Mario Balotelli. He is not worried about on-field success.
Attitude is just as important as ability in modern-day football. Football is a business, and those who put in the work will reap the rewards. I dream of a footballing world in which all players are ‘success-hungry’. Unfortunately, with the modern era being dominated by Twitter and other social networks, the publicity drug desired by ‘fame-hungry’ footballers is a just a click away. When I look back on this article in five years time, I hope it is the likes of Sergio Canales and ‘success-hungry’ players that are dominating world football, while the irrepressible Mario Balotelli and his band of merry men are slumming it in the lower leagues.
SPORT IS EVERYTHING. Richard Barrett.