This is the perfect time of year to pick a player to model your game after, with the World Cup in full swing this summer. But how do you choose just one player….Is it Lionel Messi? Is it Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it Neymar? There are just so many good soccer / football players to choose from. All young soccer players need a good mentor to look up to – even the best soccer players in the world have mentors.
It’s simple: picking a player to model your game after is an ideal way to become a better player. Try to copy all their moves, tricks and feints. Moreover, copy how they hustle back on defense to win the ball or how they make that diagonal run to open up space for a teammate. Copy how they always want the ball and are active in the game, both on defense and offense. Copy how they try to make ever first touch perfect.
Messi’s soccer idol was always Pablo Aimar. But later at Barcelona it was Ronaldinho who would help guide Messi.
For starters, you can narrow down the player you choose to model your game after by what position you play on the soccer field. If you’re a midfielder then you want to pick a player who plays your same midfield position. If you’re a defender then you want to pick a defender who plays your position, whether it’s in the center, right or left.
It’s also wise to pick a player who plays with the same favored foot that you do. While most top players can play with both feet equally, they do favor one foot. Most times a left footed midfielder will play on the left, so it’s easier to whip in crosses with their favored foot. But these days, players often switch sides during a game and or the player will play on the opposite side of their favored foot so they can cut in and shoot.
Try to focus on the player you admire and watch them throughout the game. That means not looking at the other players and how the game is unfolding but just keep your eyes on the player you want to play like. There was even a movie made about Zidane where 17 synchronized cameras focused on him throughout one match – Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait. By watching the player and not the whole field of the game you can see what he or she does off the ball and when they’re not part of the action.
In addition, it’s good to pick up things from other players that you like, but maybe don’t play the same position. Perhaps incorporate Luis Suarez’s desire and hunger to score goals into your game even if you play in the midfield, but maybe skip the biting other players part! Maybe you like how cool and calm Paul Pogba is and his ability to see the whole field, try to use that as the last defender when you’re building the ball out of the back.
Really, there are a ton of things you can pick up by having a mentor and watching them play on TV, from where on the field they get the ball to how quickly they play the ball to how they communicate with their teammates. And you might pick up things like how they raise their game if they are losing or how they don’t get down or change their style of play if they losing.
What you will also learn by watching top professionals is even the best players make mistakes sometimes, from missing a breakaway to playing a poor pass. But It’s how the pros react and recover that makes them great players. Even Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo might miss an open shot early in a game but recover late in the game to score the game winner. Toni Kroos just did this in a game for Germany. Kroos made a poor pass in the first half that led to a Swedish goal, but then scored the game winner from a free kick to keep Germany alive in the World Cup.
But it’s all about inspiration and the feeling in your heart when you go about picking the player you want to model your game after. Perhaps you’re a defender but just love how much desire and passion that Ronaldo plays with. And, if you’re young, there’s no reason you can’t pick a player who plays a position you want to play in the future – say you’re a defender now but want to play as an attacking midfielder, so that’s why you like to watch Isco or Modric play for Real Madrid and then Spain and Croatia respectively.
And even the best players in the world had mentors at one time or another. At Barcelona, Guardiola, when he was playing, was a mentor to Xavi. When Ronaldinho played at Barcelona, he was a mentor to a young Messi. This is what Messi had this to say about Ronaldinho when they played together:
“Ronaldinho is a phenomenon. He gives me a lot of advice and praises me permanently. We have fun in every training session. He says I’m his little brother.”
So while not everyone can have Ronaldinho as their mentor, there are players you can model your game after that you watch on television and also find an older or better player in your area who you can model your game after. There’s a pro that you watch on TV that you follow and imitate and there’s the player in your club that’s older and better than you that you look up to and try to become just as good as – and often they will be happy to offer tips and encouragement if you ask.
And while it’s useful to watch your favorite player play on TV, it’s even better to go to game and see them play live. At the highest level, you’ll be surprised at how fast the ball and the players move when you’re there in the stadium watching.