THE PRESSURE TO DELIVER
Inside the Players Mind
December 4th, 2017
By: Joaquin Orlando
The FIFA World Cup is around the corner and people are expectant to see who are the teams that are going to have the privilege to play it. Russia is revolutionized about it and they are hoping to host one of the best tournaments of all times. Of course, the main characters in this event are the players, and every team has their star, or in Argentina’s case, a handful of stars, trying to lead their country to the greatest event held every four years.
Of course, one of the best players in the world is Lionel Messi, and the paradox is that, with only a couple of friendly games missing till the official tournament starts, not even him or the team has found the perfect connection to perform at their bests. Why is that? Is it possible that the greatest players of all times are also human beings that feel the pressure of forty million Argentinians trying to get their minds off their daily frustrations and hoping to get some joy by watching soccer? In my opinion, there are many factors that involves the lack of efficiency the Argentinian National Team is having to try to be the team everyone hopes them to be.
People sometimes see professional players as “superheroes” instead of actual human beings, and they tend to think that they don’t suffer the problems “regular people” have to deal with on a daily basis. Let’s take as an example the bad performances Argentina had during the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which almost cost them the spot for Russia. These games are usually played on a Thursday and then on a Tuesday. Most of the players from the Argentina National Team compete in the best leagues in Europe, meaning that after their regular game on Saturday or Sunday they take a plane and fly to Argentina to train with their teammates and prepare the game for Thursday. This means they have an 8 to 10-hour flight, usually with layovers, where they arrive at a country with 5-6 hours of time difference that the one they live in, with no more than 2-3 days before the game. What do you think these circumstances do to a player? Exactly, they make them tired. After a 90 minute game a player usually needs 48 hours to recover their bodies 100%. When they need to travel for qualifiers they not only don’t have that time, but also add extra stress that makes it worse.
What’s more, adding all the physical disadvantages they give because of the long flights and little time to rest, the situation Argentina’s National Team has lived for the past four years is messing the players mind. They feel they owe the Argentinian people a reason to celebrate, due to the three consecutive finals they lost. The players feel in debt, because some of them can’t perform for Argentina the way they do in their clubs every weekend. This stressful situation makes it worse every time, considering that it’s installed in their minds that they must outstand in order to cover the lost ground. And that’s not true. So many factors make it impossible to be the exact same player in different teams: their teammates, the rivals, the fields, the atmosphere (usually nervousness and lack of patience nowadays) and even the countries where they play (they always claim that is very different to play in South America because the conditions are different than in Europe).
Last but not least, the culture of the people from Argentina makes it more difficult to be objective when it comes to analyze the players’ performances. People usually go to the stadiums to release their frustrations from work and daily life, especially nowadays where there is so many social problems and political issues going on. There is a say in Argentina that goes: “Argentina is a magical place where a 45-year-old unemployed gives himself the right to call a 20-year-old millionaire ‘failed’” And it’s true, the adrenaline and rush the Argentinians live their lives is the same way they live soccer. You are either a god or the devil. You are the best today and the worst tomorrow. One mistake condemns you for the rest of your life. So, this also gets into the player’s mind, the feeling that there is never room for error. And of course, this affects their game because their minds are not clear to focus on what they really have to focus, and usually tend to risk less to avoid getting insulted by the crowd if they make a mistake. And being afraid in soccer is the worst thing it could happen to you.
All in all, I think that the Argentina National Team players are going through a tough stage where they feel the need to deliver the people what they don’t have in their lives, and that is not helping them to perform the best way possible. Hopefully, they can find some good results in the next two friendly games and go to the World Cup with their morals high enough to believe that they are truly one of the best national teams in the world. The minute we start seeing the players as people with problems, doubts and fears is the minute we are going to be able to be more empathic with them and understand they are not robots controlled with a joystick that can play like Messi every single game. Not even Messi, because even though he usually doesn’t look like, Messi is also a human being.