Messi…..allowed to become great!

By John Cartwright

The other night I saw Lionel Messi score 5 goals in a EURO Championship game for Barcelona against Bayer Levekusen. Following the transmission of this game a documentary was screened about Messi, and it included film of him playing when a boy of 7 years of age. The footage showing Messi playing as a youngster reflected exactly how he now plays as a senior; the ability to run with the ball; beat opponents and score goals exactly like those I had just watched him score against the Germans. From a child footballer to become the greatest player on the Planet is not luck; there has to be several important decisions made about him that allowed this progression to happen.

How did Messi acquire the playing vision to become the type of player he is? Who was his playing idol – was it Maradona?  Whilst he was growing up, how did he overcome the negative comments and advice that he would have received when his skills and tactical awareness might not always have been correctly applied? How was this ‘junior football genius’ allowed to continue through the ‘minefield’ of ‘expert’ opinion to become the talented ‘total footballer’ he is today? These are all questions that need careful consideration, for Messi has developed from Argentina streets to the finest stadiums of the world.

There are two periods that reflect important times in Messi’s development; the beginning, in the streets and in junior football, and during his time at Barcelona’s academy. In both these periods, either his strength of will or the brilliant perception on the part of his tutors, or a combination of both of these, enabled Messi to progress his skills and game understanding whilst awaiting for physical maturity to develop. In each of the periods, those involved with him during match-play must have seen the playing quality he possessed and were ultra careful not to derail it by demanding less from him when he failed to deliver as he probably did on many occasions.  The introduction of Messi into competitive match-play as a young boy should be scrutinized for it would tell us much about the practice/playing that occurred during those early days followed by his elevation into more senior kids football in Argentina. This onward and upward playing transition did not seem to thwart his individualistic approach to the game and when he arrived at Barcelona, this individualistic approach he had was not disturbed once again.

Could the same situation involving such a talented youngster as Messi occur here? I don’t think so. Our development infrastructure is established on academic, age defined teaching methods that breeds conformity and not players with individualistic creativity. I have seen youngsters here who, with a better introduction into the game followed by more astute and careful progression through to senior football, could have become exciting players. Unfortunately, for them and for us, our development methods produce mediocre individual standards of ability and this provides mediocre playing standards for our game.

Every coach and player, young and older, should have seen both Messi’s goals-scoring brilliance the other evening at the Nou Camp as well as later in the documentary when playing on the dusty pitches in Argentina as a kid – EVERYTHING WAS THE SAME!…… Messi has been ….. ALLOWED TO BECOME ‘GREAT’!!

29 thoughts on “Messi…..allowed to become great!

  1. This question was asked on talksport yesterday, “can England produce a Messi?”
    The answer for me is YES, but NOT in any current academy system. Children have to develop a love of playing the game, then they become more open to learning the skills to playing at a higher level. Too much coaching can stifle creativity, just as too little coaching can allow bad habits to form. As has been mentioned on here numerous times,current coaching methods stifle players individualism.

    I am thinking what are the necessities to become a great player like Messi, please add or disagree with the following.

    1; Thousands of hours of purposeful practice.
    2; Accepting that mistakes are part of becoming the best.
    3; The right environment at home and at the football club.
    4; Continually pushing yourself to improve.
    5; Access to great coaching methods
    6; A love of playing the game
    7; ?

    A question regarding Barcelona style of play. Would there tika taka style usually stop a Messi as they have no on else coming through that plays like him?

    • Hi David. Thanks for your thoughtful repy to the ‘blog’. To answer your question and make a simillar list as you have done, here goes:–
      Points 1/6 should be conjoined: Practice whilst Playing is vital as playing is what all who love the game like to do most.
      Point 5 is so important because natural learning opportunities have been lost as street-type / playground games have disappeared. The access to ‘great coaching methods’ is not that easy to connect to and access for the general public– we believe at Premier Skills that we have a ‘great coaching program’ that will produce high quality players, but to become recognized in this respect by the football world is extremely difficult to achieve; ‘Charlatan’ coaching combined with a bad development infrasrtucture in this country means that we have never produced and never will produce, an English Messi.
      My final point is simple; break up the historically failed development methods we have here and re-dedesign coaching methods and development infrastructure that would enable players to reach the highest levels and standards for the game.

  2. Sorry Dave, sent through my repy before commenting on your final question. I don’t know if Barcelona have another Messi ‘waiting in the wings’ . They certainly have several very talented players available in other positions ready to join the present squad. I would think that the scouting and coaching staff at the club are fully aware of the need to find and prepare somebody to fill messi’s boots.
    Your point about the playing style being a hindrence in the development of a Messi type of player is only true if the coaching staff are unable to recognize such individual ability and restrict it from developing. I think this is highly unlikely in these circumstances when they already have the ‘template’ of this player in their ‘locker’. We have no such player and so the standards set are by those of limited quality —- both on and off the field!!

  3. The Tika taka WOULD ENHANCE IT beecasue as John says quite rightly they conjoin… The Barcelona players can ‘join up’ constantly because in essence their game is a short game… so to get the ball from you, i don’t have to go very far… in contrast to the Charles Hughes way, whrereby I might have to go quite FAR to get the ball, the knock-down, the fight balls.

    I was watching a game the other day and the most technical player – by far – kept going in shortish ( Messi style ) to get the ball off the right back,, and he couldn’t join because the ball was flung over the top of the back four arching towards the corner flag on on ocassion out of play for a goal kick. In that time that the ball has been transferred out of play to the opposition, how many touches has Messi maybe had? has Xavi potentially had, and they Barcelona still have the ball… Now this technical player has to wait until his side get the ball back, go short and then see someone chase off into the distance… Unless English football and the copiers don’t change it will never happen… and then the ‘boss’ must insist that his Messi runs with the ball; when he the player thinks it is on.

    Let’s not hold our breath as Joey Cole had real talent when he was in the West ham Youth team and that went down the drain…one suspects when Cole is in his 40s, 50ds, 60s he will have regrets… will the foreigners? will Messi? No they won’t… why not? because fortunately for them their mother tongue is Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese etcetera and not the Queen’s English!!! She gave football to the world and then tried to ruin it…

  4. Only one thing seems clearly apparent and that is, that the Practice/play method of Premier Skills coaching is more likely than not.. the way of training a young teenage Messi would recognise…

  5. I have drawn attention before to Athletic Bilbao and their exceptional coach, Marcelo Bielsa.
    I think that my praise for them was justified by their performance last Thursday night in the Europa League at Old Trafford. I hope that Brazil94 saw this match because it showed how well they mix the game styles. They can play nice, intricate passing moves similar to those of Barcelona and, when the need arises, they have the outlet of the big, strong Lorente in attack who is a fine target and capable of showing for longer passes, holding up the ball and creating time for other colleagues to move forward and support.
    While not suggersting he is in the same class as Messi, the 19 year old Munien is an exciting talent. He uses his body so well to shield the ball and retain possession in difficult circumstances. He has physical toughness to assist him in this regard and the technical brilliance to solve space/time problems.
    Brazil94 is right to lament the arrested development of Joe Cole, who, though he may never have become a Messi, could have beome a Munien. Whoever stuck him out wide with limited functional instructions, largely centred around tracking back and giving off ‘easy’ balls when in possession, has a lot to answer for. From my recollection, it began when he became a regular in the West Ham first team and then continued at Chelsea and with England. So Cole will forever be a ‘might have been’.
    In the West Ham Youth Team Cole, when I saw him, was a ‘free spirit’, allowed to express his talent, just waiting to be taken to the next level. But the next level was a disaster.
    This is why the coach’s role is so vital, and if we are falling down in this regard then it must be faced up to. As I have said before, Bielsa is an exceptional coach because he allows his players, even at relatively ordinary teams,the freedom to express themselves. He builds his whole approach around attack. By pressing, over-loading in attacking positions, and allowing his players to fully express themselves, Bielsa always seeks to take the game to the opposition.
    Before last Thursday, I was advising friends who like to bet to try a double bet: Athletic to win the Europa League and the Spanish Cup, (they play Barcelona in the final). I think that the odds will have shortened a bit since the match at Old Trafford.

  6. Hi Steve, no I did not see Bilbao but heard great things… Just a point though.. is it an English thing to mix up styles? On Cole, looka t 12/13 when his skill was set he should have eventually become GREAT… wrong club choice, and like so many forgot to ask about the football when transferring and I won’t blame the agent because it doesn’t take an ounce of intelligence to ask the question or evaluate for oneself -“Is this teh place for me, and in Cole’s case.. “to become a GREAT.” Mores the pity for him and for English football as the players like Cole are incredibly rarre… WONDER WHY!!!!!! Thank you Charlie; what a charlie? and of course the sycophants.. the only saving grace is that they didn’t manage to colonise the world.. Then the game would be well and truely F****.

    What’s happen to Hughes?

  7. It seems that the Premier League. who now hold control over football in this country, are saying that coaching that has been the sole responsibility of the FA in the past has not provided either players or coaches of a standard expected and will look for staff at the St. Georges centre drawn from around the world.
    What a disgrace that those in charge of our game have only just recognized the disaster coaching has been here. I have attempted to bring this to the attention of the game here and have been ignored for years…. but i was correct! The mistake that the Premier League hierarchy are about to make is continuing with Brooking as the head of a newly established coaching dept. He has held his present position at the FA for almost 9 years and has made little or no impression on the coaching standards here; so why should he remain?
    The game is changing all the time and one might say ‘investing’ in the Spanish vision could already be incorrect in both cultural terms as well as in the need to produce variations to their game-style when it becomes pressurized. We at Premier Skills have prepared our playing vision and the programs that lead to it fully aware of both the problems mentioned and have provided the practises throughout that are ahead of present day thinking. It’s a pity that those in charge of our game don’t seem to have the same forward awareness and plan accordingly.

    • John
      Agree Sir Trevor Blazer should go.
      But who should replace him?
      If the FA is to revamp the coaching system so that our still-to-be-born stars are to emerge in England & then on the world scene for 2026…who should start the revolution?
      It cannot be an evolution.
      So it must be a massive change.
      Change makes Blazers really uncomfortable – especially if iit’s in your face
      Think Clough or O’Neill’s rejection from the England job.
      Who can lead the revolution?
      Must it be English?
      Can it be a foreigner?
      Will they get a voice with the Premier League clubs?
      Do we need the Premier League to fail in Europe next season too before the continental stars stop coming here in droves chasing the money?
      Should we start by preparing the ground for 3 years time?
      Will you be a John the Baptist???

  8. Hi Brazil94. I don’t think that mixing game styles is particularly a British mentality. Although not a fan of the methods which brought Graham Taylor his club management success, I think he has it right when he says – “it’s not a question of the long ball or the short ball, it’s a question of the right ball”. I think back to that incredible feint which Pele produced against Uruguay in 1970, which left a brilliant keeper totally bemused. I recall that the pass which came in from the left covered a distance of about 20 to 30 yards. Pele dummied over tha ball and sent the keeper into a tail spin without even touching the ball.
    Barcelona often create space down the right when the right sided attacker sprints inside, taking the left back with him as Barcleona are working their play-round from the other side of the pitch.This is the signal for Alves to sprint forward into the space from right back and Barcelona break off from short passing mode to play a longer pass into the space which Alves is attacking.

  9. I get to see quite a lot of youth academy / Centre of excellence games as some of my friends have boys that are signed up to different pro teams. In most of these games the boys are under 12 years old, so still relatively young and adolescence hasn’t kicked in yet. My friends son’s are all signed for non premier teams (mostly League 1&2) but I have on occassion seen them play against championship and Premier academies.

    In all honesty the style of play from the lower League teams is much closer to a Spanish model than any of the championship/premier sides (of course I haven’t seen tham all play though). I think this is very encouraging but can’t understand why it’s only the lower leagues that have realised that smart posession play is the way forward. It also appears that the premier sides are still adopting the old cliche of bigger is better, where as the lower league teams see no problem in fielding smaller kids. I’m always impressed with the standard of football, all the boys play with a smile on their faces and they play with real fearlessness. If they make a mistake it’s not the end of the world, they just crack on and try to get another goal.

    But the most interesting thing I notoiced was the lack of shouting / instructing from the coaches on the sidelines. The lower league coaches seem to talk to their team before the game starts, let them play the 1st half, another talk at half time and them leave them alone in the second half. I thought this was quite refreshing (but not sure if they get the hair-dryer treatment in the dressing room after the game 🙂

    So I’m hoping that thing’s are starting to change, but hoping more that this type of approach starts to spread to a far wider audience.

  10. Hi Steve, I think that that quote ‘it’s is a question of the right ball,’ is a minefield. Clearly Charles Hughes, Reep, Taylor, Bassett, Big Sam, Jack Charlton, would all have a different interpretation of the ‘right ball’ compared with Guardiola, Wenger etc…

    Respectfully Steve I acknowledge that YOUR COMMENTS are probably the most insightful and magnificently written contributions to the blog.. YOU are a REAL ADVOCATE for PREMIER SKILLS and the genuine European ‘thinker.’

    I for one always look for your wise words and anybody reading this blog must reread Mr Haslam.


  11. Hi BRAZIL94. I think Steve missed out a piece of the quote that would have made his point clearer: Completed, Steve was saying, ” it’s not a question of the long ball or the short ball, it’s the question of the right ball FOR THE SITUATION”
    The use of long passes dominates too much of the game played here and so often the decision to play long is taken without using a shorter pass that would have kept possession of the ball; sometimes a short pass has been played when in a defnsive ‘scramble’ etc. and it would have been better to have played the ball longer and out of danger. The quality of a good player is determined by the way he makes decisions in the game —the more correct decisions from the situations he is involved in makes him a good player.
    I read your comments on the ‘blogs’ and appreciate your interest and concerns for the game and the youngsters who have to find a way throuugh the ‘minefield’ of inferior development they are exposed to. Best regards……. John

  12. Interesting reference to Wenger above – I heard on the radio today that FA considering Wenger for England Manager job (Where do they get this information??).
    Now, wrong fit for the manager’s job I believe, However, WOULD be a great fit for Coach and Player Development Technical Director.

    With the effect he has had on English club culture since he came to the Premiership and the acknowldgement of such an influence, I think he could be ideal to promote what John, Roger and others here discuss along the lines of a game-style, culture of coach and player development and the clear steps to achieve it.

    That would leave the England manager to concentrate on the day to day management of relationships with clubs and the scouting of players and planning required to take a team towards major tournament qualification every two years and the planning required to ensure, as much as is possible, that steady and sustained progress is made once qualified.

    Such planning for a team manager is at least a 6 year project and would give no real time to take responsibility to create, communicate and cascade with emphasis a playing vision for the nation.

    That is best left to a technical director with experience of doing exactly that. Of course the National Team Manager will be bound by the same playing and development vision but, as with Barcelona, it can become self perpetuating if leadership is strong and teaches the standard bearers to bear the standard correcctly into the future.

    I am in the throes of reading the book by Bill Walsh who transformed the San Francisco 49ers by implementing and then teaching the whole organisation his Standard of Performance which carried the organisation forward, even after he retired.

    I recommend the book with the title, appropriately enough summing up my philosophy of young player development in football (soccer!) “The Score Will Take Care of Itself”

    So, how about Arsene Wenger for Technical Director (or Guardiola..) Discuss ……..

  13. Cheers John, the key thing here – which your modesty covers up – is that Premier Skills is taylor made for the development of an English Messi, an English Xavi H and an Iniesta – this tells us everything we need to Know… and importantly when players are exposed to this type of work – they love it… you see the young kids smile and engage because they are allowed – it is almost insiisted – to be ‘individuals first’ -to be ‘great individuals first.’ Then they can as highly competent technical playrs combine with other highly technical players and wamo bring on ‘Brazil 82.’

  14. Spelling bugger … it is almost insisted – to be ‘individuals first’ -to be ‘great individuals first.’ Then they can, as highly competent technical players combine with other highly technical players and wamo bring on ‘Brazil 82.’

    This is Real Football

  15. Hi Steve The Seagull…. I think that Arsene Wenger would be a good choice as Technical Director. I think that it should be an Englishman as Manager because having a foreign coach, and paying him a fortune, is a form of cheating and trying to “buy” success in the same way as wealthy clubs try to “buy” League Championships and Cups. If the products of our coach education are poor then this should be exposed just as much as the players who are produced within the system.
    Up until now, Wenger’s technical expertise has been restricted to the the confines of Arsenal FC during the last 16 years. I think that it is now time for him to have a wider influence and tutoring a cadre of top coaches working with the various England teams would be the next step. The ups and downs of form and results will always be a part of football and the Manager will always be there to be shot at. Wenger’s role would be more behind the scenes with a long term effect.
    Going hand-in-hand with a Technical Director should be someone with overall control of young player development, from the youngest age groups to Under-18s, with the brief to dictate the coaching structure and methodology in the country. This is probably going beyond the boundaries of possibility, but of course I am envisaging Premier Skills fulfilling this position with John Cartwright in control.
    I feel that using Wenger in this position is a far more constructive way of utilising his knowledge. For the last 20 years, all we have been interested in doing has been to allow greedy clubs to grab the best overseas talent, whether it be players or coaches, and pay them millions to bring Premier League or Champions’ League success. All the time, the English game, below the tip of the ice- berg, has stagnated. Wenger and Premier Skills can turn it all around if they are given the chance.

  16. Steve Haslam has nailed it absolutey nominating Arsene Wenger to assume the formidable role of F.A. TD as the public’s ‘buy-in’ it is assumed would be 100% behind this astute appointment. Wenger has achieved greatness through the use of young players; albeit dominated by foreign boys; but he enshrines everything advocated by John and Roger’s Premier Skills vision. Top of the priority list is that ‘high technical individualism is combined within the prisim of collective team play.’ So stylistically Wenger is on the money.

    John’s association with Wenger through ‘scouting’ should – not strong enough – MUST be utilised in the KEY LEAD DEVELOPMENT ROLE as Steve argues with sound reasoning.

    Futher, both Wenger and Cartwright will be incharge of all ‘coaching instruction’ and ‘national age group appointments.’

  17. If the FA disagrees let’s have another groundswell like AFCAT or a take-over from the PFA etc… the time has come for a revolution or coup d’etat. and confine Charlie Hughes’ to the dutbin.

  18. Whoever may become involved in reshaping development methods here will have a tremendously difficult job. Everyone is an ‘expert’ when it comes to fooball matters and redirecting minds towards a different approach is an almost impossible task. I say almost, because it can be done and must be done if our game is to flourish. The utter wastage of talent that has occured over so many years is still apparent today despite all the amateur ‘tinkering’ with coaching that has taken place.
    Far too many players are exiting youth football without the skills and tactical understanding to play the game at any senior level. Our game has become over-dependant on foreign players and coaches at ALL levels.! We are in denial about poor playing standards throught the game. We have allowed TV interests to determine the assessment of playing quality in order to increase their viewing figures and actual playing standards have become seriously undermined.
    Our physical attributes should be an asset, but when used as the only playing quality in the ‘locker’ it becomes a weakness and not a strength. Physical maturity takes time to develop, prior to this happening our young players should experience the full benefits of a well constructed learning program in which WAYS OF WINNING are introduced carefully as the program unfolds.
    What a great opportunity to improve our kids both as players on the field and later as people off it.

  19. I remember the PFA touting an alternative coaching scheme- which surely would have had support among its members – and this could have trickled down to the grassroots AND I remember AFCAT but somehow the FA managed to subvert both.

    The enlightened on the PFA or connected need to produce their own coaching scheme and set it up against the FA as a viable alternative!

  20. Just to bring in a bit of reality, to the discussion as we talk about the delicate transition of Messi during those formidable years early on at Barcelona, Messi has been quoted as saying “the coaches at Barcelona always tried to change me, but I didn’t listen.” So it seems even the most enlightened coaches in the world can still make the mistake of controlling too much.

  21. I believe the key to Messi’s and others success (such as Ronaldo, Bale etc.) is that desire to take their passion and natural talent to another level. These are the players who will stay on and commit to a couple more hours of training a day and their life will revolve around being in the best physical and mental state to play football. Would you ever catch Messi out drinking in a club late at night? No. I have been bless to watch Messi live twice now – the best player who has ever lived.

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