Talent may require constant hard work and progress, but it’s impossible to move forward without amassing hours of group training.

Football has always been a team sport, but more so today than it has ever has been. In recent decades, strategy has taken on an increasingly important role. Trainers like Arrigo Sacchi and Pep Guardiola have brought about genuine revolutions in the way of approaching the sport, their game philosophies have marked a milestone in its evolution and they will forever tenant a place in the history of football. No doubt, at the very least, a place in said history far longer than the players who embodied their genius on the playing field and brought about their success around the world.

Does this mean individual talent is giving way to team strategy? A difficult question to answer, given the fact that the years of ‘guardiolismo’ have coincided with the rise of Messi and Cristiano, two prodigies that have become the protagonists of an era that will be marked by its constant surpassing of world records.

Lionel Messi y Cristiano Ronaldo durante un Barcelona-Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a Barcelona vs Real Madrid match.

What, then, stands on top as the definitive key to success? Strategy or individual talent? “Neither aspect must be separated from the other,” Pere Tarradellas puts it bluntly. The former professional player is actually in RCD Mallorca, where he directs the Juvenil team of CD San Francisco, a subsidiary of the Balearic team. “Tactics and technique have to go hand in hand. Collective plays and patterns allow for players improve and put their talent at the service of their team.” No wonder then, that guardiolismo coincided with the rise of Messi. Tactics and talent are complementary and provide mutual reinforcement.

“The collective strategy of a team has to be chosen based on the individual characteristics of the players at their disposal,” explains Felipe Ragel Marmol, Marcet’s U16s A coach. “If my squad has two fast wingers for an effective counterattack, it would be normal to say, pull back the line of the defense to create space in front of you. The main objective of any tactical philosophy is to exploit the individual resources of a team and especially the players who can make a difference.”

Felipe Ragel, entrenador del Cadete A Marcet, da una charla a los alumnos de la Academia de Alto Rendimiento.
Felipe Ragel talks to Marcet players during a training session in Barcelona.

It is also true that the outcome of many matches seems to be linked more to individual actions than to collective strategies. A goal from 50 meters, a red card at the beginning of the game, a divine intervention in the last second… “Technical actions have a lot of weight,” acknowledges Tarradellas. “But they cannot be detached from the context of the game; from what happened before the match. If a great player brings the game home with talent and expertise, you also have to value everything surrounding that player, everything that has led up to that moment and allowed it to happen.” A path that hasn’t been travelled alone, but within a group.

the outcome of many matches seems to be linked more to individual actions than to collective strategies

Talent needs tactics to see the light of day. That is, the individual quality is not given, but is built within its own context. According to Tarradellas, “what makes talent develop is the hours of quality training, of meaningful learning. That has much more relevance than the player’s innate characteristics. In a different environment, we’d have a different Messi. If he hadn’t been trained at Barça, he would inevitably be a different player.” ‘La Pulga’ is who he is because of the work he has put in to achieve it.

You always have to harvest and tend to individual talent. But you have to manage it collectively. “In training, you should never have to propose tasks that isolate a player,” explains the San Francisco coach, who spent two seasons at Marcet before signing with Mallorca. “To improve, football players have to do so through the collective actions of the game. They have to receive cognitive stimuli from integrated and applied tasks. Then, Individual talent can always go one step further. The capacity for improvement and learning never ends in a football player.” The footballer, like man himself, is in permanent evolution.

Pere Tarradellas, actual técnico del CD San Francisco, filial del RCD Mallorca.
Pere Tarradellas, trainer in CD San Francisco, a subsidiary of RCD Mallorca.

Two years ago, Tarradellas ran the same team Ragel runs now. The two technicians have a lot in common. Above all their approach; developing game philosophies according to the technical characteristics of their roster. “Tactics are what allow players to express themselves 100%,” says Marcet’s U16s A coach. “It’s true that a victory can come down to individual performance, but those very same great doings of that prodigy player are rooted in teamwork.”

Thus, the topic concludes with two notions:

  • That talent is built and builds when amongst others and with time. Becoming a professional footballer comes with hours and hours of collective training. Level: high performance. There are no short cuts.
  • That talent does not stop being built. Learning has no age, it is always possible to improve. There are no excuses.
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