One of the many reasons I decided to start this blog, was to give young players an inside look at what it’s like playing in Europe. So I want to give some advice to young players thinking of giving it a shot overseas eventually. First of all, you have to want this more than anything in the world. Many dream of the opportunity of playing soccer for a living, but the reality is very few actually make the grade, it’s extremely competitive. Coming to Europe involves a great amount of sacrifice. By coming over here, you’re leaving behind your friends and family. You spend most of your time relaxing and doing nothing, when you’re not training to prepare for the next game or session. Sometimes you can be in a totally foreign environment, where you don’t know anybody and may not speak the first language and believe me, it can be very hard at times. So being able to put up with changes and homesickness is huge. It’s not easy and it’s by no means the most glamorous thing in the world, trying to work your way up the soccer ladder. I’ve met countless North American players over the years that have come over here and hit one speed bump, and packed it in and headed home. I’ve heard so many people say, “I never got a fair chance” or “I didn’t have any luck”. As much as those can both be factors in things not working out, I believe if you want something, you figure out a way to make it work. Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities and find a way. Many players expect instant success as soon as they touch down and if they’re not immediately lining up for Manchester United in the Premier League as they had imagined, they’re on the first plane back home.
I believe if you want to make it in Europe, you need to have much more than good soccer skills. You have to have the right mindset and be willing to learn, as well as being capable of adapting to your new surroundings. I believe one of the reasons I’ve had some success over here, is because I’ve been willing to work my way up the ladder each season. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t played in some of the most glamorous places in the world, but sometimes that is what it takes to make it. I think I have improved my game every season I've been here and have made noticeable steps up each season. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve become a sponge and taken time to learn off more experienced players. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with many players that have played at the highest levels, whether it be in the Premiership, the Champions League or their National teams. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to develop my game in various countries, with different playing styles. Because of this I think I have an edge over many players, because I can fit into many different team systems now. I feel like I have the ability to drop in to any team, with any group of players and fit in right away, which is so important. I also came over here a few years ago, as a Striker. I was soon converted into more of a winger/wide Midfielder. It took me some time to get used to playing this position full-time, but I trusted my coaches and have given everything I can to become the best player I can be. Last season I played every position on the field except for center back and goalkeeper. My point is that being a versatile player can be very beneficial for you. One of the most important things for me, is you have to believe in yourself. If I had quit the first time someone told me I wasn't good enough, I would have stopped playing soccer a long time ago. You have to have the confidence to believe in your own ability and be able to block out the people who try to bring you down. Have a close support group who believes in you and stick close to them. Because at the end of the day, these are the only people that matter. Many of the best players in the world today will tell you, that they have been told they weren't good enough by someone or many people. You just have to ignore these people and continue to prove them wrong with your performances on the field.
Even if you happen to be the best player on your team or in your school, you have to realize it's a great start, but you need to do more. Just because you're a good player, doesn't guarantee that you will make it. I've played with hundreds of good players over the years growing up, that never came even close to making it. You have to realize how many other players are out there working, trying to become better than you. Just because you're the best on your team, doesn't mean anything in the long run, because think about how many teams there are in every community, and how communities there are in every region, and how many regions there are in every country, and that's just for your individual age group. I'm not saying this to make it seem like there is no chance to make it, I just think it's important to realize how difficult it is to make it. I remember a few years ago playing in a tournament in England for Crewe Alexandra. It was a mini-tournament which included U18 teams from Crewe, Sheffield United and Manchester United. All three clubs produce some top talent and this tournament was being held at Manchester United's training ground. I will probably always remember that day, it was a dream come true for me to be coming up against one of my favourite teams in the world. We played a few games that day, and I remember how hyped the boys and I were after we beat Manchester United. I will also never forget the chat that the coaches had with us after that game. They sat us down and told us how brilliantly we played, but they immediately took us back down to earth. They said "take a look around at the players you're sitting beside, now take a look at Sheffield United and Manchester United. There is about 60 great players here today. The reality is boys only a few of you will make it to become a first team pro. Even though you boys are some of the best talent in the country, statistics show that at the end of this season 90% of you will be released and will not become full-time professionals. Maybe two-three players from each team will make the step up. So be happy with the work you did today, but realize how many great players are out here today and how many will be where they want to be at the end of the season. It's up to you where you will stand at the end of this season." For me and many more players that was a very influential talk and a very important one. Luckily I believe many of the players from those teams went onto become pro's, but unfortunately many talented players were also let go.
Now I’ve gone and pointed out many of the obstacles that you may face, while trying to make it as a soccer player. I feel that I’ve gone through many and will continue to go through more. Because that is part of what being a soccer player is, it’s a roller coaster ride, with so many ups and downs. However don’t let what I just wrote put you off, because if you’re willing to face the challenges and you manage to over come them, its 100% worth it. Getting the chance to play soccer as a job and to live in a different country doing what you love, is pretty great on its own and being able to do it, makes all the sacrifices worth it. I can’t guarantee that if you come over here and work hard that you will have success, because it’s not an easy road. But I do know that if you want it more than anything in the world and come over with an open-mind, ready for new challenges and believing in yourself, you never know what can happen. For any young players reading my blog, I wish you nothing but the best and hope that you learned something from this blog entry. Continue working on your fundamental skills and try to develop into the best soccer player you can be. Make your soccer ball your best friend, take it everywhere with you and practice, practice, practice! As one of my most influential coaches once told me “there is no magic pill”. It takes years of dedication and practicing to become a great soccer player. No matter how good you get, there are always ways you can improve your game. Ask for feedback from your coaches, figure out your weaknesses and find ways to improve your all around game. If you continue to do that and continue to put yourself in a challenging playing environment, I assure you, you’re off to a great start.