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SA SOCCER NEWS
'Its not enough just to be talented' 13/12/04
Fans' columnist Unathi Mntonintshi looks at the importance of professional footballers having a stable private life outside of soccer.

What do Benni McCarthy, Benedict Vilakazi and Delron Buckley have in common? Well quite a few things. They all play for Bafana Bafana, they are all currently on form, scoring goals and perhaps less known is the fact that they are all married.

Another common factor with these players is that they have recently gone through tough times. For McCarthy the combination of a cancelled contract with Everton and the arrival of Jose Fernandez must have painted a bleak future for him.

Buckley had a fall-out with his coach at VFL Bochum. For many months the rumours that Vilakazi is over age wouldnt go away. Perhaps in a football career such periods will always occur.

Who would have thought that Rivaldo could be such a frustrated player sitting on the bench at AC Milan. Even Ronaldo had a tough time at Inter Milan with career threatening injuries. It hasnt been all smooth sailing for Thierry Henry either.

So footballers do go through rough and tough times. And the truth is that the elixir necessary to emerge after such period does not lie in the pitch. It lies outside the pitch. The pitch is where the evidence that the player has gone through the phase will inevitably show.

For Benni McCarthy since the 2002/3 season he has been on a sustainable scoring form never seen in his football career. Many have blamed his agent Rob Moore for making his career a start and stop affair.

Moore has been accused of only being interested in the money than the well being of the player. McCarthy is one of the few African players including Abedi Pele, Basile Boli, Samuel Kuffour to have won the European Champions League in recent years.

The player was a top goal-scorer in the Portuguese league last season. Despite many expectations that McCarthy would never realise his potential, the player is proving many people wrong. He has managed to keep Portos Champions league hopes alive with match winning goals in Ukraine and against Chelsea.

McCarthy has managed to score twice in two games against Petr Cech. Within the same period since 2002 to present, McCarthy has also managed to get married. Many lambasted him for choosing to go to his wedding instead of travelling with Bafana Bafana to Ghana. Well time has told us that perhaps the player was right. The marriage has been the best thing to happen to him.

For Buckley his fall out with his coach at Bochum dented his form for Bafana Bafana. Buckley had managed to cement his place in the team since the Nike Cup in the United States a few seasons ago. Another recent setback for the player was his lack of match time during the World Cup in Korea/Japan.

Jomo Sono only played him against Slovenia as a substitute. Apart from moving to a new club Armenia Belefield, Buckley is expecting his first child. Perhaps more surprising to many is that Buckley is topping the leading goal-scorer charts in Germany especially taking into consideration that the player has been unconvincing for Bafana lately. Perhaps he is played out of position. What can't be doubted though is ability at the highest level.

Injuries and gossip have threatened to derail Vilakazis career. Despite calls for people to produce evidence that the player is over age none have come forward to date. Instead we've witnessed a player who has grown in stature both domestically and in the continent.

Despite his small figure, Vilakazis ability to read the game and make those late, blindside runs into the box is a marvel to watch. He has been duly rewarded at Pirates with the captains arm band.

When Hernino Herrera introduced the modern way of coaching his philosophy was largely based on a holistic approach to football. One of the fundamental cornerstones of Herreras successful coaching era at Inter Milan was his belief that what a footballer does outside the football pitch will inevitably affect his performance on the pitch.

Issues of diet were introduced in football. Inevitably coaching a football team became a much more sophisticated task. There can be no doubt about Herrera as the father of modern football. He brought structure to the game and organisation to the game.

Perhaps Herrera had realised that to be successful at the highest level you need to get a lot of things right. It is just not enough to be talented, as Carlos Queiroz once said.

I am a big fan of Roger Federer, the best tennis player in the world at the moment. He is good at all aspects of the game. His backhand is one of the best, his serve, his decision making and his resolve about being the best player. In football, players also need to get a lot of things right to be successful.

The natural consequence of improving is that the higher you go the tougher it becomes to improve further. At international level, very few players are just not talented. Everybody is talented including your team mates and the opposition.

For a player to be successful you need to beat your team mates who vying for the same playing spot and be able to beat the opposition in the field of play. It is true that when the coach selects you, inherent in his decision is his belief that you are better suited to beat the opposition than some of your team mates.

As a player you need something more than talent for you to be able to have a competitive edge over both your team mates vying for the same position and the opposition.

Clearly organising your personal life such that you are able to play at your best at all times is very important. Whilst not suggesting that marriage is the only way to organise ones personal life, the effect it seems to have on McCarthy, Buckley and Vilakazi is profound.

A career as a player in football is very short and players need to get a lot of things right within a short space of time. At the most South African players have about 14 years at top level. Organising your personal life as soon as possible is important.

It is true that McCarthy, Buckley and Vilakazi might not be able to maintain this form but what is also important is how they respond to a slump in form. The support one get from having another half plays an important role not just in maintaining form for longer but in helping one to regain form as soon as possible.

Footballers need to take their careers more seriously. They need to take the nice things that come with the game with the necessary things for one to sustain that fame.

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