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The Ben Smith column: The key to success

Without doubt one of the most important ingredients required to be a successful footballer is confidence. However this confidence can sometimes manifest itself as arrogance both on and off the pitch.

This, in my opinion, is one of the factors which can make footballers unpopular with the general public who maybe do not appreciate the pressure players are under.

That same swagger that supporters love to see from players on the pitch can be the character trait that most annoys them when they meet players in the flesh or read about their antics off the pitch.

The vast majority of footballers in my experience share similar personalities. Most players are confident, or at least appear confident on the outside, outgoing and pretty sure of their abilities. These qualities are pretty much a pre-requisite. Footballers have to be thick skinned.

As a player you get instant feedback on your performance from supporters, the press and the management team within your club. In this current age of social media there have never been more platforms for people to express their view whether this is on fans forums, facebook or twitter.

Adverse effect

I personally never look at fans forums or the local paper of the club I am playing at irrespective of whether I have had a good or bad game as too much positive praise can make me relax too much and negative criticism can have an adverse effect especially if I am currently not feeling great about my game. I don’t need someone sitting behind a keyboard to tell me whether I have played well or not.

To be honest a lot of the supporters on fans forums or even in the press are not qualified to give a critique on a player’s performance. I have sat in the stand a lot lately and believe me the game looks so easy up there but on the pitch it is totally different.

However obviously everyone is entitled to their opinion and that is what makes football great as you can speak to four different people and they can all have diverse thoughts on the same game.

Slightly contradictory I know but I have also come across players who appear very confident on the outside but in reality they are the opposite.

As the years have gone by I have managed to recognise these players within a day or two of meeting them or just by playing against them. They may talk the talk but they can’t hide their body language or how they perform under pressure.

Insecure

I have also come across a few players who are pretty openly insecure. I always think for players like this a career in football must be torture. Managers, supporters and fellow players can be pretty brutal with their feedback.

I played with one player earlier in my career that had played five or six years in the Championship before joining the League Two club I was with at the time. He would constantly ask me what I thought of his performance.

I would always chuckle to myself privately that a guy who had played two hundred games in The Championship was asking me who had at that time played about two hundred games in The Conference whether he had played well!

The majority of footballers do not cross that line between confidence and arrogance although one of my ex team mates at Hereford United, Matt Baker, loved the fact that when a scout from Manchester City came to watch him play he said he had confidence bordering on arrogance.

However some of the best players I have played with have blurred that line between confidence and arrogance. These players are not normally shy of telling everyone how good they are. These players will be humoured by the more grounded players in the team if they are playing a big part in the team’s success.

Never had a bad game

One player who comes to mind is now having a successful career in The Championship. When I played with him he was a young player making his way in the game. He never had a bad game, not in his eyes anyway!

On one particular occasion he was having a horrible game, then in the last minute he scored a wonderful goal to win us the game. This finish was totally out of keeping with the rest of his performance.

After that game we were going out on our Christmas party, our rather outspoken goalkeeper complimented the player on the goal and then followed it up by saying he had played crap. The player looked incredulous that anyone could think he had been anything other than the best player on the pitch.

In a way I admired him for this approach. Yes it made him a bit of a laughing stock at times but he was very focussed and you could see from his body language and the way he spoke that he totally believed he had been brilliant.

I’ve always felt that, while I am a pretty confident individual, I am too honest with myself, if I play crap I know it and it will annoy me until I play my next game whereas if I play well I will tell myself I did ok and move on. Maybe I am a bit too self aware and lacking that bit of arrogance.

Drawbacks

This mindset is not without its drawbacks. These sorts of players often have huge egos and crave the limelight for themselves.

This can be fine if the rest of the team are willing to go along with this and let them hog the headlines while they go about doing their equally important jobs quietly. The problems come when you have a few players like this or the player who is a legend in their own mind isn’t actually contributing as much as he thinks he is.

At times these sorts of player’s confidence / arrogance on the pitch can spill off the pitch and they often may not be the greatest person in the world. However I think this is a trade off that has to be accepted as these players greatest strengths on the pitch can be their greatest weakness off it.

You don’t get many players like that at the level I have played at but it makes you realise how tough it must be to manage at the top level when the manager might have nine or ten players who think they are brilliant and should have the team built around them.

If you are on Twitter feel free to follow me @bsmudger7


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