For the first time in my life I’m playing football and it’s not in the streets. I’m in an actual football field and I’m overwhelmed by what is going on around me. My team gets a penalty and someone from outside yells: “You, kid, take it!”
The other players hear him and back away from the ball. It’s all mine.
I immediately realize that this guy is apparently the boss here and I suddenly feel privileged yet nervous. I walk up to the ball frightened that I might miss. You know, being the new kid on the team, barely knowing anyone, and doing something stupid or wrong on your first training session is not exactly the most comforting thing. Luckily, I score.
The guy sitting outside the field was known as ‘coach Sam’. But for now, let’s call him Sam.
Sam was my coach for the next 10 years. Every weekend, our team would gather at the field. He would have a talk with us about what we did wrong in the previous training or match and give us a proper amount of advice. We simply listened.
He had a set of Ajax training videos which we watched together. He wanted us to complete their exact training drills and we simply did that. The kids in the videos were our age and they had their own ‘coach Sam’. They listened as well.
He despised selfishness. Any player found doing something selfish or irrational with the ball would receive the same small lecture. Sam would get two balls and shoot his into a certain location on the field. Simultaneously, he would ask the player to dribble with the other ball all the way to that location. When the player returns, Sam would say: “You see, both of us just sent the ball there. However, I did it in less time and with much less effort. Who do you think has the easier life?”
We trained for years and worked our butts off. Soon enough, no other team in the country could even compete with us. We participated in several tournaments knowing that we’ll simply walk in, play, and walk out with the trophy.
Sam managed to keep us interested and anxious to win more. Yet, his authority never faded away. When our bodies started to grow he called us up for 8 am trainings at the beach. He wanted us to complete our training drills on the sand and we were asked to run in and out of the water after every drill. If you’ve never done it it’s simply putting your body through hell in a continuous fashion. You’d ask yourself: why would a teenager wake up at around 7 am on the weekends or in the summer to put his body through hell?
That is what people around us would ask. We all had the same answer: “We enjoyed it.”
Sam created a need to compete yet also maintained a bond between the players. He had our respect and we listened to him. He wanted us to suffer in training, use our bodies and intelligence to the full extent, and eventually come out as winners when it mattered.
Of course, everyone is asking: what does this have to do with Barcelona, Luis Enrique, and the players?
There are vast differences between the two situations. Most important of all, these men are mature professional players getting paid to do their job. While, on the other hand, we were just kids and teenagers wanting to take a medal home to show it to our families.
Luis Enrique, or be it any coach who coaches Barcelona, should have a certain amount of authority over the players. This hierarchy should exist and be very clear to players. It harms absolutely no one and only leads to the success of a team.
Sam would tell us: Your ego might get you to great places in life but not on the field. It is the opposite of what makes a team successful. Always remember that this is a team sport that will only function if all members of the team handle responsibilities together and fight together. You want personal success and satisfaction of your ego? Play Tennis.
However, in professional football egos do exist. But one thing does not change: it’s still a team sport and the team won’t function with so much instability. There should be a need to impress the coach. There should be an extreme dedication to what the coach is demanding. There should be visible unity among the players and more importantly a clear and honest relationship with the coach.
Regarding Barcelona, we can’t really tell who is causing the disturbance (obviously leaving the board issues aside). It may be the reported incompetence of Luis Enrique that is causing all the mess. It may be the players’ fault. But at the end of the day, the moment you realize that we’re pointing fingers at each other is the moment the team starts to die.
In July of 2007, my teammates and I were talking about training and we suddenly notice a little girl running towards us yelling: “There is something wrong with your coach! He is lying on the field and he is not moving”. We rushed towards the field only to see that the girl was right. Apparently, he had been electrocuted by one of the machines while maintaining the field. They took him to the hospital and we were told later on that he had passed away.
Of course, after the required procedures, the team aimed to get back on track. We lost a major factor in what made the team great. We lost a leader and more importantly we lost someone we trust. The team never got back to what it was and eventually we all lost interest.
Again, this is not about Luis Enrique. Luis Enrique could completely fail. This is about any coach who’ll be appointed, how I would like him to act and how I would like the players to treat him. Unity and organization are beautiful weapons and without them any team in the world loses its status even if you have the best players in the world.
As I said before, there are vast differences between our little irrelevant team back home and the biggest club in the world. However, the sport is the same, the dedication to what makes a team great is the same, and the importance of having a leader and correct guidance is the same.
Rest in peace, coach Sam.